Gas Guzzlers

The Middle East consumes too much oil.

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

As oil prices skyrocketed in the last few years, many analysts pointed to booming demand in China and India. But they're only part of the picture. It's true that daily Chinese consumption surged from 4.8 million barrels per day in 2000 to 7.9 million barrels in 2008, while Indian demand rose from 2.1 to 3 million. Big fuel subsidies and rapidly expanding middle classes drove the jumps. Meanwhile, combined European and U.S. oil use declined slightly. The International Energy Agency predicts that China will account for more than 40 percent of the global rise in oil demand through 2030, while India will take up another 20 percent.

As oil prices skyrocketed in the last few years, many analysts pointed to booming demand in China and India. But they’re only part of the picture. It’s true that daily Chinese consumption surged from 4.8 million barrels per day in 2000 to 7.9 million barrels in 2008, while Indian demand rose from 2.1 to 3 million. Big fuel subsidies and rapidly expanding middle classes drove the jumps. Meanwhile, combined European and U.S. oil use declined slightly. The International Energy Agency predicts that China will account for more than 40 percent of the global rise in oil demand through 2030, while India will take up another 20 percent.

Fixating on Asia, though, misses two other critical factors. The first is the Middle East. Long seen strictly as a producer, it has in fact become a major consumer of oil. Middle Eastern countries will gobble up nearly 50 percent more oil than India in 2030, despite being home to just a fifth as many people.

The reason? Massive oil subsidies that put China and India to shame. Showering your citizens and companies with $20-a-barrel oil is easy when you can produce the stuff yourself for that much or even less. As a result, it will be far harder to persuade oil producers to part with their subsidies than it will be to convince the Chinese to do the same. That probably means less oil left for the rest of the world — and higher prices to boot.

The other wild cards are wealthy countries, like the United States. They have few options to cut oil consumption quickly, but far more opportunity over the long haul. A 20 percent cut in oil consumption by the world’s wealthy countries in 2030 would completely offset the expected increase in Chinese demand; a similar cut in U.S. gas guzzling would neutralize the expected Indian increase.

<p>Michael A. Levi is the David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations.</p>

More from Foreign Policy

The USS Nimitz and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and South Korean Navy warships sail in formation during a joint naval exercise off the South Korean coast.
The USS Nimitz and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and South Korean Navy warships sail in formation during a joint naval exercise off the South Korean coast.

America Is a Heartbeat Away From a War It Could Lose

Global war is neither a theoretical contingency nor the fever dream of hawks and militarists.

A protester waves a Palestinian flag in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, during a demonstration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. People sit and walk on the grass lawn in front of the protester and barricades.
A protester waves a Palestinian flag in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, during a demonstration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. People sit and walk on the grass lawn in front of the protester and barricades.

The West’s Incoherent Critique of Israel’s Gaza Strategy

The reality of fighting Hamas in Gaza makes this war terrible one way or another.

Biden dressed in a dark blue suit walks with his head down past a row of alternating U.S. and Israeli flags.
Biden dressed in a dark blue suit walks with his head down past a row of alternating U.S. and Israeli flags.

Biden Owns the Israel-Palestine Conflict Now

In tying Washington to Israel’s war in Gaza, the U.S. president now shares responsibility for the broader conflict’s fate.

U.S. President Joe Biden is seen in profile as he greets Chinese President Xi Jinping with a handshake. Xi, a 70-year-old man in a dark blue suit, smiles as he takes the hand of Biden, an 80-year-old man who also wears a dark blue suit.
U.S. President Joe Biden is seen in profile as he greets Chinese President Xi Jinping with a handshake. Xi, a 70-year-old man in a dark blue suit, smiles as he takes the hand of Biden, an 80-year-old man who also wears a dark blue suit.

Taiwan’s Room to Maneuver Shrinks as Biden and Xi Meet

As the latest crisis in the straits wraps up, Taipei is on the back foot.