Needing leadership for our global climate and energy challenges

This week, Nick Butler, the Financial Times energy columnist and visiting professor and chair of the Kings Policy Institute at Kings College London, raised an important issue this week about the need for a world institution for climate and energy.

Here are some of the important points he raises:

  • It’s time to provide detailed steps to reach our 2050 zero net carbon emissions objectives and that requires an institutional structure to bring all the elements together;
  • An institution is needed to combine both analysis of the challenge and development of practical solutions;
  • There is need for co-ordination and the establishment of clear benchmarks and a transparent reporting system; and
  • Expertise is needed to transfer best practice and managing any emissions reduction trading scheme

Butler argues that the right organisation should be the International Energy Agency.  There is no question it has increased its expertise and influence since its creation after the first oil crisis in the 1970s.

Butler raises two points about the need for a global organisation.  First, the agency should “give substance to the worthy but rather empty 2050 commitments.” Second, “accepting climate change will not be linear or smooth, the new institution should begin to tackle the complex question of adaptation.” I fully agree and this is where I have a problem.

The IEA has probably achieved more than its original expectations in the 1970s.  It has adapted to the changing context, starting when oil prices plunged in 1986 and when climate change issues first were raised only a few years later. As Butler writes, the IEA “has become the centre of expertise on all forms of energy supply and consumption, including technologies that are yet to become commercially viable.”

It has done much to, as Nick Butler said, “embraced emerging economies”, moving from a “regional” organisation to a global one.  But it is still an institution of richer OECD countries.  It is not a global organisation. Staff have to come from OECD countries.  When it comes to adaptation, I believe there is a need for a bottom-up approach and that means having experts from all countries that need to address adaptation.  The issues and the solutions are quite different in sub-Saharan Africa or eastern Asia than they are in France or Germany or the United States. Experts on supply, consumption and adaptation need to be global and not just from OECD countries.

There are other global intergovernmental institutions such as IRENA but it is too oriented to renewable energy and it is not encompassing all the elements that need to be addressed in our climate and energy policies.  There is also the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and now goes by UN Climate Change.

Nick Butler is right to raise the need for a global institution. He wants a constructive outcome at the November COP 26 summit in Glasgow.  His solution is the IEA and maybe this will happen. I think we now have several months to further discuss the options for a global institution to provide global leadership that we definitely need. Undoubtedly, there is no simple solution.

What are your views?

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