Dr. Aldo Flores-Quiroga is a big believer in honest and informal dialogue. When competing sides sit around a table together, leave their preconceptions behind, and engage in open debate, he says, differences can be set aside and challenges can be overcome.
The challenges currently facing the energy sector are many and manifest, and include the never-ending quest to tame excessive market volatility, ensure energy security, and tackle energy poverty. Then there are question marks over, for example, industry investment levels and operational costs, and issues surrounding environmental sustainability.
As Secretary General of the IEF, Flores-Quiroga isn’t there to find concrete solutions to all – or any – of these problems. Rather, his role is to bring major industry players together to discuss them and “to foster greater mutual understanding and awareness of common energy interests.” It’s why the people sitting around his table include government officials, energy industry executives, and other experts. The IEF also holds a biennial gathering of ministers from around the world, the most recent of which took place in Moscow in May. Dignitaries, CEOs, and officials from international global organizations came together to discuss “the new geography of energy and the future of global energy security.”
“The principal mission of the IEF is to facilitate constructive dialogue among the key energy players of the world – both producers and consumers – in order to promote global energy security,” explains Flores-Quiroga, noting that no such mechanism existed before the birth of the IEF, 23 years ago. “In the 1970s and 1980s, relations between producers and consumers were...” he pauses. “Well, let’s say ‘tense.’ After the first Gulf War there was concern about the stability of the oil market and the ongoing and continuous flow of supplies from the Middle East to the rest of the world. There was also an awareness that dealing with any disruption in the markets would require much more cooperation than had existed previously, and this led to calls from world leaders for dialogue between producing and consuming states.”
So, in 1991, ministers from energy producing and consuming countries began informal discussions around global energy issues which, over time and through inter-governmental arrangement, developed into the more formal International Energy Forum, with all member countries signing up to the IEF Charter. During the seventh meeting of the IEF, held in Riyadh in 2000, Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah of Saudi Arabia suggested that a permanent IEF Secretariat be created, with headquarters based in the Diplomatic Quarter of Riyadh. This was duly inaugurated in 2005 and, with energy security continuing to be a global challenge, the work of the IEF became more vital than ever.
The IEF’s diverse membership is currently comprised of 76 countries (from Afghanistan to Zambia), including producing and consuming countries of the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and accounts for almost 90% of world oil and gas supply and demand. “Our members include a growing number of countries that have huge influence in the world’s oil and gas markets, both as producers and consumers,” says Flores-Quiroga. “Because the complexity of interactions in these markets is increasing, there are many challenges that require full cooperation from all sides if they are ever to be solved.”