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The International Energy Agency after 35 years: Reform needs and institutional adaptability

Abstract

Despite the mounting scholarly interest in processes of institutional change in international organizations, still very little is known about how and when such evolutionary dynamics occur. This article hopes to contribute to this young, yet growing body of literature by process-tracing the changes that have occurred in the institutional setup of the International Energy Agency (IEA). Founded during the first oil crisis of 1973–74, the IEA has had to deal with major environmental changes over its lifetime. In response, the agency has diversified away from its original raison d’être, namely managing an emergency oil sharing mechanism, to become a more proactive policy adviser guiding its member governments toward sustainable energy economies. The article seeks to explain the observed patterns of change and inertia, using a theoretic paradigm that builds on theories of “new institutionalism.” The paper argues that the agency’s institutional flexibility can only be fully explained by taking into account a combination of factors: (1) the member states’ choices, in particular the impulses of the G8-members of the IEA; (2) path dependency, especially the institutional link with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); and (3) agency by the secretariat and the executive bureau of the IEA.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. The semi-structured elite interviews have been conducted in Brussels, Paris and Berlin over the course of the past year (March 2008–April 2009). Since the interviewees have been guaranteed anonymity, they will only be referred to on a general, non-attributable basis.

  2. Norway also participates in the agency albeit under a special agreement, concluded in 1975. As Norway is endowed with large domestic oil reserves, Oslo could not accept the conditions with respect to the oil allocation scheme that was included in the crisis mechanism. The special agreement that was negotiated basically means that Norway participates as an ordinary member in the IEA, except with regard to the crisis action mechanism.

  3. The authors thank one of the anonymous reviewers for drawing our attention to this point.

  4. These energy policy reviews can be downloaded from the IEA’s website: www.iea.org.

  5. These databases are available from: http://www.iea.org/textbase/pm/index_clim.html.

  6. These organizations were OPEC, the European Community’s Eurostat, APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), OLADE (the Latin American Energy Organization) and the United Nations (Statistics Division).

  7. According to the official website of IRENA, it is foreseen that the new organization will have a staff of about 120 and an initial annual budget of € 19.2 million, compared to 190 employees and a budget of € 24.5 million for the IEA (IRENA 2008).

  8. Ulf Lantzke, Helga Steeg, Robert Priddle and Claude Mandil.

  9. J. Wallace Hopkins, John P. Ferriter and William C. Ramsay.

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Van de Graaf, T., Lesage, D. The International Energy Agency after 35 years: Reform needs and institutional adaptability. Rev Int Organ 4, 293–317 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11558-009-9063-8

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Keywords

  • International Energy Agency
  • Institutional change
  • International organizations
  • Global energy governance
  • New institutionalism

JEL codes

  • F53
  • F55
  • F59
  • Q48
  • Q49