Energising Discussions

28 January 2006

Along with China, energy is probably the single most talked about topic: oil storage in the USA, the pros and cons of nuclear energy, the current dilemma of capacity, and the struggle to control diminishing and increasingly valuable resources. We have re-entered an era of growth in mass, manufacturing production, the growth of energy hungry economies; we face terrorist threats, and climate change hangs over us (literally)

“If anyone wants to write a political thriller, the competition between the USA and China for energy in the coming decades would make a great backdrop, says Daniel Yergin of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, commenting at a meeting on energy security. Clearly a critical topic, as Putin of all people places energy security as the number one issue during his G8 leadership slot.

But what of the new ‘energy security institutions’, the title of the session in question. As Martin Wolf (FT) comments as the session’s facilitator, “we have heard about numerous problems, but where are tomorrow’s new institutions to get adequate governance to secure available and affordable means to switch on the light. From the panel, concludes Martin, there appears to be no appetite or sense of need for new institutions.

From the floor comes the thrust, “you are wrong that we do not need new institutions, you on the panel (OPEC, IEA, etc) have failed us miserably. “We need to have international arrangements to limit demand, particularly in India and China…secondly, there is no organisation that brings together consumers, producers and others to respond to energy crises…thirdly, what about a post-Kyoto arrangement, and forth, what about mechanisms to help individual countries to deal with energy crises”.

Claude Mandil from the International Energy Agency responds, perhaps not surprisingly highlighting the potential for the IEA to pick up additional duties…”co-operation with major consuming countries can work, might work, could work…” he offers up helpfully, reminding us of the G8’s statements last year of the importance of driving forward energy security…he reflects, “perhaps the leaders are not well prepared to discuss these topics, G8 is not enough, even the G8 Plus 5 might be inadequate to the task”.

The global governance of energy, unquestionably one of the most important dimensions of accountability going forward. But as I listen and try to imagine institutions that can deliver energy security, it becomes clear that we face an ‘accountability double helix’. We need to define what institutions we need to secure energy security, and yet our institutions are profoundly impacted by the existing and prospective distribution of energy rights and the patterns of use, addictive or otherwise.

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