International institutions are notoriously slow to adapt to change. Nowhere has this problem been more glaring than in the energy field. Since 2000, surging demand for energy in emerging economies and shifts in suppliers driven by a revolution in unconventional oil and gas extraction have transformed the global energy landscape. Yet the International Energy Agency (IEA), the most prominent energy-focused multilateral institution, has seemed stuck in the past, its membership restricted to states that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a rich man’s club of advanced market democracies.
When the IEA was created in 1974, its members accounted for more than 61 percent of the world’s energy demand. Since then, oil consumption among the club’s founding members has flat-lined. From less than 40 percent in the 1970s, non-IEA states now consume more than half of the world’s energy—a surge in demand that has been led by China and India, whose consumption has increased more than tenfold and eightfold, respectively, since 1974. It should therefore be little wonder that, by the first decade of this century, many observers had begun to dismiss the IEA as a legacy institution that was losing its rationale as its members’ market share fell.
But in recent years, the IEA has begun to show signs of life. The agency has been quietly expanding its tent in ways that promise to bring economic, environmental, and even geopolitical benefits to OECD states and a number of emerging economies. The IEA’s pragmatic approach to integrating rising powers will help restore the agency’s centrality in the fragmented realm of global energy governance—and it holds lessons for the reform of other global institutions.
The IEA’s recent outreach efforts began in 2011, when its members agreed to establish bilateral work programs with Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, and South Africa—the OECD’s five “key partner” countries—as well as Mexico and Russia. Two years later, the IEA’s members and most of these countries
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