What is the Role of the Executive Director?

The Executive Director is the head of the International Energy Agency. This role has broad political, analytical and operational responsibilities.

The Executive Director reports to the IEA Governing Board, which is made up of one or more government representative(s), usually at the level of Director General, from each IEA member country. Several times a year, the Governing Board meets at the IEA headquarters in Paris with the Executive Director and other senior members of the Secretariat to discuss developments in the energy field and the recent activities and work of the Agency. Once every two years, the Governing Board convenes at the Ministerial Level. 

The Governing Board sets its priorities for the IEA at these regular meetings and further provides direction for the Agency’s future work at the Ministerial. Most IEA activities fall within the broad themes of energy security, economic development, environmental protection and worldwide engagement, and are implemented by the IEA Secretariat under the direction of the Executive Director.

The Executive Director also submits a draft budget for the IEA to the members of the Governing Board, who then review and adopt it.

Since the founding of the IEA, a core responsibility of the Executive Director has been to lead the IEA during an oil crisis, providing assessments, making recommendations and – if deemed necessary – helping member countries co-ordinate a collective response (through the release of emergency stocks of oil to the markets and/or other emergency response measures). Executive Directors have played a central advisory role on the three occasions that oil stocks have had to be released: in the build-up to the Gulf War in 1991; after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita damaged offshore oil rigs, pipelines and oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico in 2005; and in response to the ongoing disruption of oil supplies from Libya in 2011.

While emergency response to supply disruptions continues to be a core aspect of the Agency’s work, the understanding of energy security and the role of the IEA have evolved and expanded since the Agency was founded in 1974, and so too has the work of its Executive Director. For instance, as energy security and climate change are recognised as global issues, a truly international response is needed to address them. The Executive Director’s role has therefore grown to involve outreach and co-ordination with countries that are not members of the IEA, such as China, India and South Africa.

As the principal public face of the IEA, the Executive Director is the chief spokesperson, recognised internationally as a leading, impartial voice in the field of energy policy and markets. The Executive Director presents new research and analysis undertaken by the Agency to governments (both collectively and individually) as well as to national and international organisations and forums. Sharing this information regularly involves participating in high-level meetings – including G8 and G20 Summits, the UN Climate Change negotiations, the International Energy Forum Ministerial and the Clean Energy Ministerial – and speaking with the world’s media.

Based on a decision of the Governing Board, the Executive Director may serve a maximum of two terms of four years each. The Governing Board oversees the appointment of the Executive Director.

The Executive Director is supported in his/her duties by a Deputy Executive Director. As well as taking on the duties of the Executive Director in times of absence, the Deputy is another public spokesperson for the work and mission of the Agency and plays a prominent role in the day-to-day management of the IEA. 

The IEA has four Directors who report to the Executive Director. They manage teams of analysts and experts who focus on: i) energy markets and security; ii) sustainable energy policies and technologies, iii) enhancing global dialogue on energy, and iv) longer-term economic and energy policy scenarios and outlooks.

The current Executive Director of the IEA is Fatih Birol, who took office on 1 September 2015. Previous Executive Directors have been: Ulf Lantzke of Germany (1975-1984), Helga Steeg of Germany (1984-1994), Robert Priddle of the United Kingdom (1994-2003); Claude Mandil of France (2003-2007), Nobuo Tanaka of Japan (2007-2011) and Maria van der Hoeven of the Netherlands (2011-2015).