IEA mulls whether to make all its data freely available

6 Jan 2022

Quantum Commodity Intelligence - The International Energy Agency has proposed to make all its data and analysis freely available following calls from academics late last year, Quantum has learned, in a major move that is likely to accelerate data transparency in the energy sector as the world prepares to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.

The institution is currently largely funded by member countries such as the US, Japan and European countries, but it relies on subscriptions for around a quarter, or €7.2 million ($8.1m), of its core annual budget.

The IEA also receives additional funds in the form of voluntary contributions from member states interested in researching a particular topic.

Fatih Birol, the agency's executive director, proposed the move, which still needs to be greenlighted by member countries at the next ministerial meeting to be held 2-3 February.

Current members would need to increase their contribution to the IEA to cover the budget shortfall, or private contributors could step in, Birol said in a note to staff and seen by Quantum.

"I am hopeful that we may be able to find a creative solution with the support of several members and large philanthropists that could permit us to make it a public good, in the interests of boosting market transparency and promoting good energy/climate decision making," wrote Birol in an email to staff in late December.

The IEA did not comment when contacted by Quantum, bar to deny an earlier report that the governing board had approved the proposal.

Hannah Ritchie, senior researcher at Our World in Data (OWID), the online database for open-source data, wrote a tribune in Nature magazine last October, followed by an online article calling on the IEA to drop its paywall for the benefit of scientific research.

In a call with Quantum Thursday, she described the news as potentially "a massive step forward" and said she would be awaiting the ministerial meeting's outcome in February.

"To understand the problems the world faces and see how we can make progress we need accessible, high-quality data. It needs to be global in scope – leaving no country absent from the conversation – and it needs to cover the range of metrics needed to understand the energy system," wrote Ritchie in October.

"This data exists. It is produced by the IEA. But the IEA only makes a fraction of their data publicly available, and keeps the rest behind very costly paywalls. This is despite the fact that the IEA is largely funded through public money from its member countries," she added.

Our World in Data was funded in 2015 by Oxford University researcher Max Roser to create a centralised, open and free database available online.

In September 2021, Roser asked his Twitter followers what dataset they would like to access for free, and many mentioned the IEA data.

The IEA employs around 200 analysts based in Paris, France, who compile data for all energy sectors and write research.

While the IEA was created initially as a cooperation body during the oil crises of the 1970s, its role has largely evolved in recent years, and it now sees climate change research as one of its main missions.

Corrects the inaccurate statement that a governing board had approved the proposal