IEA Executive Director addresses EU College of Commissioners in Brussels

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol And European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen In Brussels February 23 2022

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels, February 23, 2022

One year on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, International Energy Agency Executive Director, Fatih Birol, addressed the College of Commissioners from 27 EU countries in Brussels on the importance of strengthening energy security while continuing to advance the energy transition.

At the invitation of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Dr Birol highlighted how the global energy crisis shows that effective government policy truly matters in turbulent times and that the IEA continues to step up its efforts to help countries navigate uncertainty. After the event, President von der Leyen thanked Dr Birol for sharing his insights. In his address to Commissioners, Dr Birol issued ‘one congratulation, one warning and one opportunity’ to Europe for its efforts so far and for the years ahead.

Praising the EU institutions and member states for significantly reducing reliance on Russian energy in just 12 months, Dr Birol explained how Russia’s pipeline flows to Europe have plummeted by 80% since just before the invasion. He also commended progress in the deployment of cleaner alternatives to Russian fossil fuels, which are growing faster than ever. The amount of solar and wind capacity added in the European Union rose by over 40% in 2022, as did heat pump installations. There was also a significant increase for investments in energy efficiency last year.

Dr Birol warned Europe against complacency ahead of next winter, adding that we are “certainly not out of the woods yet”. While lower energy prices and improving market conditions are welcome news, oil and gas market stability remains in a fragile equilibrium. A cocktail of factors could still throw Europe off course. These include a full shutdown of pipeline gas flows by Russia, resurgent demand in China after its lifting of Covid restrictions, and a tightened oil supply as Western sanctions on Russia bite and appetite in Asia strengthens.

In order to compete in the age of clean energy technology manufacturing, Dr Birol called on Europe to deliver a new industrial masterplan through bold and ambitious policies. Many countries and regions have used the global energy crisis as a wake-up call to invest in cutting-edge technologies, building up domestic industries and nurturing supply chains closer to home. The U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, Japan’s Green Transformation programme and India’s Production Linked Incentive scheme are a few of the early movers. Dr Birol said: “The Commission’s new Green Deal Industrial Plan takes a major step in this direction. The plan is ambitious and far-reaching, proposing mechanisms to tackle multiple challenges of industrial transition and, covering a wide range of sectors and technologies. But much work remains to develop the policies and measures outlined in the plan. Their design and implementation will shape the future of Europe’s industry.”

The IEA has worked closely with European partners since the beginning of the crisis. In the afternoon, Dr Birol delivered the opening remarks at an event hosted by the Directorate-General for Structural Reform Support (DG REFORM) to mark the end of a technical project, part of the European Commission’s response to the energy crisis. It was chaired by Mario Nava, Director General of DG REFORM, and welcomed representatives from 17 participating member states. The technical project with DG REFORM included a focus on expanding the clean energy economy in Europe, including accelerating the development of renewable energy, reducing energy demand, developing renewable hydrogen production and innovative solutions to decarbonise industry. The countries participating included Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Finland.