Access to affordable, stable energy supplies is critical for economies throughout the world. For developing countries, affordable energy can offer a pathway to a better quality of life. But between 2000 and 2010, world oil prices became much less affordable.
The average global oil price advanced from approximately $25 per barrel to more than $100 per barrel – far outpacing rates of inflation in most countries.
Many books and articles have been published that argued that the increase in prices has been due to oil speculation, the restriction of supplies by OPEC, growth in developing countries, peak oil, or various geopolitical factors. Regardless of the cause, the response to higher prices in developed and developing countries may be surprising.
Conventional wisdom might suggest that as oil prices rise, developing countries would be less able to afford oil, leaving wealthier countries to bid against each other for increasingly higher-priced supplies. But that is not at all what happened over the past decade, and the trend may give developed countries a reason for concern.
From 2005 to 2010 – a period that saw oil prices rise to record highs – oil consumption in the United States fell by 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd). Other developed regions experienced similar trends. The European Union saw oil consumption drop by 1.2 million bpd, and Japan registered a drop of 900,000 bpd.
Japan was the exception in the Asia Pacific region. Excluding Japan, the rest of the Asia Pacific region increased its oil consumption by nearly 4 million bpd even in the face of the strong oil price increases from 2005 to 2010 (see Figure 1). Over the decade, Asia Pacific oil consumption increased by nearly 7 million bpd.