Water, food and energy are central to human well-being and political stability. Yet on a global scale, the waste of these vital resources is ubiquitous – on both the production and consumption sides. The technical ability to radically reduce this waste is well within our means yet inefficient pricing is inhibiting its application.
Whilst there is often a strong economic case for price reform, the politics tend to be messy and complex. As is well-documented, ‘subsidy elimination’ risks political backlash, harming vulnerable groups, social instability and loss of competitiveness in the short-run. There is urgent need for a more inclusive dialogue about how to assess the value of resources considered social goods and the role of policy in influencing their domestic allocation and use.
The Valuing Vital Resources initiative aims to encourage incentives for the sustainable use of energy, water and food through furthering understanding of the economic and societal costs of their interlinked modes of use and production. It involves a series of dialogues, materials and country focused reports to gather and make available international experience in cost-assessments, price reform and related policies. The idea is to provide tools and expert networks that can support countries which currently administer resource prices and are in the process of or considering reform. The initiative began in April 2013 with international participation and a focus on the Arab Gulf region. In 2015 this focus will shift to India.
The initiative looks at energy, water and food because production and/or use of these three resources are often interlinked. The graphic below, for example represents, the situation in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, whose economies rely heavily on national reserves or oil, gas and water. Such interdependencies between resources mean that the price of one commodity will have implications for costs and stresses for another. As governments seek to integrate resource management understanding pricing linkages and developing valuation tools will become essential for sustainable policy-making.
In 2013, three international workshops were held as part of this initiative; two in London and one in Kuwait City in partnership with the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences. These brought together economic, technical, policy and academic experts to discuss pricing issues in energy, water and food in the Gulf countries and a range of international and regional experience in pursuing reform. A workshop co-organized by the CUTS Institute for Regulation and Competition in Delhi and Chatham House will take place in early 2015.
- Counting the costs of energy, water and food consumption in the Gulf, Environment & Development Magazine, April 2014
- The True Cost of Energy & Water Subsidies in the Gulf (in Arabic), Al-Hayat, May 2014
- The Water Sciences & Technology Association (WSTA) 11th Gulf Water Conference 'Water in the GCC … Towards Efficient Management', 20-22 October 2014, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman
- 'Green Economy in the Gulf Region' workshop, The 2014 Gulf Research Meeting, Cambridge University, 26 August 2014
- 'Sustainability in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus' Conference, Bonn, Germany, 19 May 2014
- UNESCWA special session on Sustainable Energy in the GCC countries, Arab Forum for Environment and Development Annual Conference, Sharjah, UAE, 28-29 October 2013
The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s Gulf Prosperity Fund supported the Gulf focus of the project along with the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences.
The project is currently funded by the MAVA Foundation.