Rhein on Energy and Climate

The discreet call last month by Nobuo Tanaka, the Director General of the International Energy Agency (IEA), upon China to join the organisation is overdue.

The IEA has ceased to represent the major oil consuming countries, as it did when it was founded in 1973/74 as an autonomous OECD agency to meet the challenge of the OPEC oil boycott. Today, OECD countries account for no more than half of global energy demand. This demonstrates the enormous progress in energy efficiency that OECD countries, in particular Japan and EU, have achieved since the early 1970s and the rise of emerging countries to the status of major energy consumers.

During the last 25 years the IEA has undergone profound transformations. From a data

collecting body, which is also in charge of monitoring the security stocks of its member countries in case of unforeseen interruptions of global oil and, possibly in the future, gas supply, it has increasingly turned into an energy policy advisor for its member countries and reached beyond its traditional member states.

With its small staff of less than 200 energy specialists, it has become the global leader on energy-related issues. Its annual “International Energy Outlook” constitutes the reference publication for energy experts and policy makers world-wide.

Its 2008 “Energy Technology Perspectives” is the most comprehensive overview of energy scenarios until 2050. It has taken a lead role for all technical aspects of alternative energies, including nuclear and fusion technologies, as well as for carbon capture and storage.

It organises major international meetings on energy issues like this year’s conference on renewable energies in New Delhi on October 27.

China would substantially benefit from joining the IEA:

It would be able to share, on a reciprocal equal basis, the wide experience on energy markets and technologies that the IEA has accumulated during the last three decades. For China as the biggest energy consuming country in the future it will be precious to be able to freely discuss global and regional energy market trends and technologies.

It would convey China leading status in the international energy community and underscore its willingness to assume global responsibilities in strategic policy areas.

It would help overcome its traditional hostility to join institutions with a “Western label”. Working in full transparency with colleagues from the “West” would help both sides to remove deep-seated prejudices and better appreciate their respective approaches to complex problems like climate change, energy policies and new energy technologies.

Under the present rules, IEA membership is tied to OECD membership. It is unlikely that, at this stage, China would also like to join OECD or that its member countries would like it to join. It would therefore be necessary to cut the link.

For ideological reasons or pride, China might not be in a hurry to join the IEA. IEA should therefore create the status of associate member, for a transition period, and define the rights and obligations of such a status.

Brussels 01.04.10 Eberhard Rhein

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