Why Fatih Birol Never Bought a Car

The International Energy Agency chief economist’s biggest fear: that sharing the world's primary commodities could spark another global war.
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: On a personal level, what does sustainability mean to you and how has your perspective changed over time? 

Fatih Birol: I always thought that using more efficient energy sources, pushing the clean energy technologies such as renewable energies are important. I have been thinking that all the time and try to do this in my work here at IEA, but I also took some personal decisions, which may be a bit unusual for the people who are watching this in the United States. I have refused to buy a car for the reasons of sustainability. And I am 51 and since today I have never bought a car, because I believe using cars is one of the main reasons that we pollute the world, increase CO2 emissions and this is also an issue for oil security. 

Question: How has your outlook evolved in the past few years regarding the human ability to change behavior? 

Fatih Birol: In fact we are making this outlook since a few years and at least in the last four or five years we try to make it clear to everybody that the sustainability is a key issue and "business as usual," not changing the current energy policies, is not an option anymore. The current policies will lead us to a catastrophic result in terms of oil supply, in terms of climate change, and third one, which I didn’t mention up until now, the affect of the energy on poverty, namely today 1.5 billion people, at least 20% of the global population they have no access to electricity and it is not a minor issue. In sub-Saharan Africa, in South Asia they cannot use electricity as they do not have it. A mother cannot, or a father cannot keep the medication for his or her child in the refrigerator, and this is a major problem. So looking at these three issues we have been highlighting this in the last three or four years and I have felt from time to time frustrated that the governments did not get the message strong enough. But in the last one year or two I have seen that we have seen some impact and some governments are changing their policies, these governments both in the developed countries and in developing countries which makes me a bit more hopeful than in the past. 

Question: What is your biggest fear when it comes to the future of our planet? 

Fatih Birol: I think my biggest fear is having another global war which might have been a result of sharing the primary commodities in the world. 

Question: How do you picture our world in 25 years, particularly when it comes to business sustainability? 

Fatih Birol: I would like to see a world which is much more fair than today. Less geopolitical tensions, and more importantly, using much more cleaner energy in a sustainable way. And that in that world we will have solved our climate change problem.

Recorded on March 1, 2010