Mahdavi's research focuses on energy policy, the political economy of the petroleum industry, and the comparative politics of climate change. Overarching themes in Mahdavi's writings include the negative political consequences of fossil fuels, extractive resource nationalization, civic engagement and universal cash transfers (such as carbon dividends), fossil fuel subsidy reform, and the efficacy of policies to eliminate natural gas flaring. Mahdavi has consulted for natural resource think-tanks and governments of oil-producing countries in emerging markets. Mahdavi serves as non-resident fellow of the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy and of the Payne Institute, as a former fellow at the World Economic Forum, and as a Term Member at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Examines how dictators maintain their grip on power by seizing control of oil, metals, and minerals production.
Finds that the release of methane and carbon dioxide emissions at oil wells around the world makes an outsize contribution to global warming. Finds that most efforts to fix this problem so far have been largely ineffective. Recommends the development of remote sensing techniques for detecting point-source methane emissions.
Finds that transnational bribery is most likely when state-owned enterprises, as opposed to government bureaucracies, regulate contracts. Examines evidence from cases of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations in the oil sector. Shows that the incentives for corruption are highest when regulatory agencies are politically independent, suggesting the need for reform in countries where national oil companies have regulatory authority.
Finds that global progress towards fossil fuel price reform has been mixed. Finds that governments are failing to exploit one of the most cost-effective policy tools for limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
Shows that politicians in Iranian parliamentary elections use oil wealth to prolong their time in office by spending on pork projects and targeted transfers in their districts.
Surveys 12 national oil companies (NOCs) from diverse geographical and operational contexts. Distills practical steps that policy-makers can take to make their countries’ NOCs more effective and more accountable, both to governments and to citizens.