Remarks on Energy and Development at IAEA Scientific Forum

Vienna, Austria

IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

Vienna, Austria
12th Scientific Forum during the 53rd Session of the IAEA General Conference

My purpose this morning is to stimulate thinking about how the world might deal effectively with two major problems, energy poverty and energy insecurity.

Energy poverty is widespread and persistent. Some 2.4 billion people still rely on traditional biomass fuels, and 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity. Africa suffers particularly severely. Annual electricity use in some African countries is only 50 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per person, an average of 6 watts, less than a normal light bulb. Average annual consumption in the OECD is 8600 kWh/person, roughly 170 times higher.

Energy insecurity also persists. Even affluent nations have seen major blackouts and price escalation. Insecure energy markets due to political instability and price volatility are as unwelcome to producers as they are to consumers.

I have argued for some time that one way of improving the way we address these problems is to create a new global energy organization to complement, not replace, existing bodies. At the moment, many institutions deal with energy, but none with a mandate that is global, comprehensive and encompasses all energy forms.

We have a World Health Organization, two global food agencies, the Bretton Woods financial institutions and organizations to deal with everything from trade to civil aviation and maritime affairs. Energy, the engine of development and economic growth, is a glaring exception.

In the United Nations system, work on energy is fragmented. After the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the UN created a coordinating mechanism, UN-Energy. It has 20 member agencies, which is in itself an indication of how fragmented the UN´s energy activities are. UN-Energy has no budget or authority and has had limited impact. It served initially as a modest forum for discussion and information sharing about its members´ energy activities and released a number of publications.

More recently, however, efforts have been to better utilize its potential. Since the beginning of last year, UN-Energy has been chaired by Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, the Director General of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). We are fortunate that Dr. Yumkella will be a speaker and panelist in the Scientific Forum´s final session tomorrow afternoon.

What would a global energy organization do? Here are a number of ideas. It could:

  • Conduct regular peer reviews of national energy plans, providing authoritative medium and long term assessments of global energy demand and supply;
  • speed technology transfer to poor countries;
  • provide information on the impact of one country´s energy use on neighbouring countries.

A global energy organization could coordinate and fund research and development with a special focus on energy services for poor countries. Their needs too often get overlooked by private R&D oriented to rich country markets.

Such an organization could also work to assure energy supplies for a broad range of energy uses and emergency situations. The International Energy Agency provides oil supply assurances to its members, and, as I told the General Conference yesterday, I believe new mechanisms are needed to assure nuclear fuel supplies.

I am aware that efforts in the 1970s to establish a global energy organization failed. Success now will require statesmanship and long term effort. It is important, however, that we are able to demonstrate that a new organization can offer clear practical benefits to Member States.

Some of the functions I have proposed would require new commitments from States, for example on sharing energy information and possibly being bound by negotiated technology requirements, licensing procedures and rules on dispute settlements.

Negotiating a new global energy convention that spells out such commitments will be difficult. But it is an idea that is worth considering and requires reflection by experts like you.

I wish you every success in your deliberations.

Last update: 17 November 2014