New IEA boss faces world energy landscape in flux

Friday, 4 September 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Career economist replaces politician
  • Insiders complain of low morale
  • Environment community says IEA too slow to change
  • First trip as executive director will be China in September


PARIS/BRUSSELS (Reuters): The new head of the International Energy Agency faces dilemmas that challenge the purpose of the body set up to protect the interests of the West against the power of OPEC in the 1970s.

Fatih Birol of Turkey – the IEA’s respected chief economist – takes over on Tuesday, replacing Dutch politician Maria van der Hoeven, a former economy minister whose four-year term has expired.

“There is a lot of expectation on Birol – not just external performance, but crucially internal upgrade and institutional strategy,” said one official on condition of anonymity.

Although speaking for big oil-consuming countries, the IEA finds member the United States once again a leading producer and replacing OPEC as a dominant force on world markets.

And major energy consumers China and India are not even members, presenting a headache for the Paris-based IEA’s prized role as the leading forecaster and data repository for opaque energy markets.

Birol also has to convince the oil and gas community, traditionally central to the IEA, to shift towards lower carbon fuels as United Nations’ talks, referred to as the Conference of the Parties (COP), on a new climate deal will take place in Paris at the end of this year.

“COP-21 must send a strong signal to investors to not lock in our energy system to a high-carbon future,” Birol said in an email.