World energy forum needs China onboard to tackle carbon emissions and high oil prices

Hepeng Jia/Beijing, China 

Soaring oil prices and an urgent need to cut global carbon emissions are leading to calls for China to play a role in the International Energy Agency (IEA), an energy forum for the world’s oil consuming countries.  

IEA executive director Nobuo Tanaka is reported to have invited China to join the organisation at an International Energy Policy Forum held in Beijing in July. Meanwhile, Daniel Sullivan, assistant US Secretary of State, told a business meeting organised by the US Chamber of Commerce in Beijing in May that China’s participation in the IEA’s collective emergency response system would strengthen its decision-making powers.  

Legally, all members of the 27-nation IEA must be members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), points out IEA press officer Sylvie Stephan. China and India are not OECD members and any revision of the IEA constitution needs to be agreed by the OECD, she adds.  

But even if China cannot become a full IEA member, it can cooperate with the agency through a special partnership, suggests Malcolm Keay, a senior research fellow at Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, UK. ’IEA cooperation with China and India would help in a number of ways, such as exchanges of information and expertise, improving transparency, identifying barriers to technology transfer, research and development, and wider policy cooperation on oil stock management,’ Keay told Chemistry World

According to Stephan, China and India have already been invited to send observers to meetings of the IEA’s governing board and various committees. All sides have benefited from this increasingly close cooperation, she says. 

Although the surging oil price has reduced the oil demands of the US and major European nations, China’s oil imports continued to increase by 11 per cent to over 90 million tonnes in the first half of this year. ’Both China, the world’s fastest growing energy consumer, and existing IEA members could benefit from China’s IEA membership,’ says Ma Hong, a senior researcher at the China University of Petroleum. ’This could help to stabilise the world energy market through coordinated actions in adjusting oil stocks and exchanging key information and technologies.’ 

However, although China’s energy consumption is rising dramatically, the country is far from being a world leader in the energy market, says Pan Jiahua, a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Even if China could join the IEA it would need to weigh up carefully benefits and obligations such as coordinated actions on oil stocks and making its energy data measurable and reportable, he adds.  

Chinese leaders seem to be cautious in responding to the call to join the IEA and have so far made no official comment on membership.