Experts assess energy future at Riyadh symposium

Saudi Minister of Energy Khalid Al-Falih at a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) at its headquarters in Vienna, in this file photo. (AFP)
Updated 16 February 2017
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Experts assess energy future at Riyadh symposium

RIYADH: Khalid Al-Falih, minister of energy, industry and mineral resources said that since energy markets are governed by more complexity, enhancing dialogue on probable energy pathways improves market transparency and brings the Kingdom closer to achieve goals together.
The minister, who is also the president of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Conference, was speaking at the 7th IEA-IEF-OPEC symposium on energy outlooks in Riyadh on Wednesday, according to a joint press statement, issued on Thursday.
The symposium — which was organized by the International Energy Forum (IEF), the International Energy Agency (IEA), and the OPEC — successfully concluded its sessions debating short- medium- and long-term energy outlooks and transport sector dynamics.
IEF Secretary General Dr. Sun Xiansheng, OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo and Dr. Kamel Ben Naceur, director, Sustainability, Technology and Outlooks, representing the executive director of the IEA, welcomed more than 120 senior government and industry representatives from energy producer and consumer countries on the inclusive and neutral platform the IEF provides.
Xiansheng in his address at the seminar pointed out that global energy security depends, more than ever, on enhancing commitment, reliability and trust. This can only be achieved by a vibrant energy dialogue on a global level.
Barkindo offered OPEC’s support to help improve the dialogue on energy outlooks by hosting a technical meeting with senior experts in advance of the IEA-IEF-OPEC meeting on Physical and Financial Energy Market Interactions taking place on March 16 in Vienna.
Naceur stated that the IEA was committed to continued collaboration aimed at providing transparency on the model assumptions underlying the energy outlooks and looked forward to continued discussions with the other partners and stakeholders on the implications of the different scenarios.
The IEA, IEF and OPEC agreed to maintain their efforts to enhance the comparability of energy outlooks in response to requests for more aligned baseline data on supply and demand where possible and to continue to facilitate wider understanding of the variations in outlook assessments. Industry and government representatives welcomed the comparative analysis of IEA and OPEC outlooks provided in the IEF-Resources for the Future (RFF) Introductory Paper to improve dialogue and engagement with all energy sector stakeholders.
Xiansheng moderated discussions of the first session with a focus on the latest OPEC and IEA energy outlooks and a comparative analysis of short- medium- and long-term energy outlooks released by the IEA and OPEC in 2016 provided by the IEF-RFF Introductory Background Paper.
Bahrain’s Minister of Oil Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa chaired Session II on Industry views on short- medium- and long-term energy outlooks, and Sudan’s minister of Petroleum, Mohamed Zayed Awad Mousa, chaired the final session on transportation.
To help place discussions in the context of global sustainable development goals and Paris Agreement pledges to limit global warming within agreed thresholds, UN Under Secretary General Shamshad Akhtar, who is also the executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), delivered a special address via her designated representative.
IEA and OPEC each year publish energy market outlooks based on the rigorous analysis of available statistical data, market fundamentals, macroeconomic developments, policy trends and assumptions. In addition, on the occasion of the biennial IEF ministerial meetings, both organizations present focused findings that they derive from their analysis and outlooks.
The 7th Symposium is part of a wider trilateral work program undertaken by the IEA, IEF and OPEC in recognition of mandates from the energy ministers of the IEF and G20 countries.
The underlying principle of the symposium is to improve transparency, and facilitate comparability among the various outlook scenarios, and help advance a data-driven and well informed producer-consumer dialogue.
In addition to the joint IEA-IEF-OPEC Symposia on Energy Outlooks, the joint collaboration involves high-level workshops on Physical and Financial Energy Market Interactions and Gas and Coal Market Outlooks.


‘Naked Diplomat’ author Tom Fletcher bares all on life as UK ambassador to Lebanon

Updated 26 May 2018
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‘Naked Diplomat’ author Tom Fletcher bares all on life as UK ambassador to Lebanon

Tom Fletcher might be best described as “the anti-diplomat.” Not in the sense that he sees no value in diplomacy, but in his steadfast refusal to live up to the stereotype expected of the ambassadorial profession.
While British ambassador in Beirut, he tweeted his way to acceptance by his hosts with an informal style and social accessibility that was in distinct contrast to the stuffy image of the traditional diplomatic circuit.
He told the BBC that there was not a single Ferrero Rocher in the embassy building — referring to the chocolates jokingly associated with the job after a 1990s TV commercial — and his “Dear Lebanon” farewell blog in 2015 after four years in the job boosted his broad international online appeal.
Now, Fletcher is running a portfolio of careers in the space where business, technology and public policy intersect. He is a visiting professor at New York University in Abu Dhabi, specializing in international relations, and is also involved with the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, the “ambassadors’ finishing school” in the UAE capital.
The former envoy is also chairman of the international board of the UK’s Creative Industries Federation and a member of the United Nations’ Global Tech Panel, as well as continuing a career as a successful author. His book “The Naked Diplomat” explored the interactions between governments, technology and big business, and became an international bestseller.
His experience and Internet renown make him a star attraction on the international forums circuit. He was on a panel in Dubai recently to discuss the findings of the 10th Arab Youth Survey, and afterwards went into some detail on the findings of the poll, which showed — alarmingly for some — that the US was waning in popularity in the region under President Trump and that Russia was increasingly regarded as a friend for young people in the Middle East.
Fletcher told Arab News that there was some reason to be worried about those findings, but also cause for optimism. “We have seen a striking fall in reputation among young people in the region since the US elections. But it was also worth noting the wider admiration for the American people as a whole, which looks quite resilient.
“The Russia results were interesting, because Russia has not always been a stabilizing force in the region. On Trump, they are further confirmation that the election of the leader of the free world created a vacuum. But the lights will eventually come back on in the shining city on a hill,” he said.
The survey seemed also to reveal a generational split in the Arab world, with many youngsters demonstrably not sharing their elders’ view of the US president. “I think that the region has access to the same information as the rest of us, and can take from it a pretty clear assessment of Donald Trump’s reliability. There are clearly some areas of alignment with some countries, such as the rejection of the Iran deal. But the survey shows that people across the region also hear the Trump administration’s wider messaging on the Middle East,” Fletcher said.
The Iranian situation was clearly on his mind, but he said there were alternatives to an escalating confrontation between the US and the Gulf states on the one hand, and the regime in Tehran on the other. “Wherever you stand on the Iran deal, its violation is a concern for regional security. The issue we have to ask ourselves is ‘what is the alternative for restraining Iran’s nuclear potential?’ Personally, I haven’t seen a better answer to that than the existing Iran agreement.
“Of course, the Iran deal in itself isn’t sufficient in reacting to Iran’s wider regional role, not least in Syria. But I worry that it is the hard-liners in Tel Aviv and Tehran who seem keenest to end the agreement,” he said.
A lot of his time in Beirut was spent dealing with the regional fallout from the Syrian crisis, which started just as he began the ambassador’s job. Surely, seven years on and with no solution in sight, that represents a failure of traditional diplomacy?
Fletcher’s response was, well, diplomatic. “Not all has failed. Huge effort has gone into keeping Lebanon relatively stable, despite the scale of the Syria crisis just across the border. Diplomacy has failed on Syria and on Palestine/Israel. But George Mitchell (the American politician credited with helping bring about an end to the Northern Ireland conflict in the 1990s) said that making peace was 700 days of failure and one of success. We have no choice but to keep trying, and to work harder than those who want to see diplomacy continue to stumble,” he said.
Fletcher’s work in the Gulf has enabled him to take a broad overview of developments in the region, and there is no more intriguing situation than in Saudi Arabia, which is going through a rapid transformation of the economy and society under the Vision 2030 strategy. “I think there has been a shift in international opinion on Vision 2030 over the last year. Initially many were curious, and conscious of the obstacles.
“But there is now a growing realization of how important a reform agenda is, especially if it succeeds in creating more opportunity for young people, including women. We all should hope it succeeds — I think it can, but will need maximum involvement of citizens themselves in shaping an open approach,” he said.
Fletcher also has a clear view of the kind of socioeconomic order that will emerge from the transformational policies of regional leaders.
“The Gulf has clearly realized that there is a need to move away from oil dependency well before the oil runs out. The answer has to lie in a knowledge economy. I’m heartened by the kinds of issues that my students at NYU AD want to work on and pioneer. And by the government focus on themes like wellbeing and education reform.
“Twenty-first century skills will need to be at the heart of the school curriculum, with learners encouraged to be curious, to seek out sources of knowledge and wonder, and to learn teamworking and innovation. This is happening increasingly in the larger cities, but there is still work to be done to mainstream knowledge, skills and character in education systems,” he said.
With the power of Big Data coming under scrutiny as never before in cases such as the controversy over Facebook’s role in the political process in the US and elsewhere, Fletcher’s work for the UN is more relevant than ever, and he believes there is a big role for the Gulf states to play in that debate.
“The Middle East needs to ensure it is better represented in the international architecture. It needs to be a key part of the debate about security and liberty online — the UAE Artificial Intelligence Minister (Omar Bin Sultan Al-Olama) is a great example of this. And it needs to help get everyone on to a free Internet,” he said.
Before entering the diplomatic service, Fletcher was an adviser on foreign policy to three British prime ministers, which gives him a unique perspective on the big current issue in the UK — the increasingly bitter process of leaving the EU, or Brexit.
The search for new trading partners has seen a succession of British ministers visiting the Gulf region in a bid to clinch new business. Fletcher does not share the view of some that the UK is destined for insularity and isolation in the post-Brexit world.
“The UK is going through a complex process, but it is always at its best when it has a worldview formed from having actually viewed the world. When it is open minded, outward looking. When it stands for more liberty — rights, trade, thought.
“The creative industries are already showing the way. And the royal wedding was a brilliant reminder of what the UK can be — diverse, modern, self-aware, creative. We all badly needed that reminder,” he said.
Fletcher was the youngest person ever to get a major ambassadorial post, and seems well set to pursue a handsomely paid career in virtually any sector, from international policy-making, to domestic UK politics or the private sector.
But he still regards himself as a diplomat with a creative twist. “I still write diplomat on the landing cards in planes.” And there is a second book in the works, he revealed: “I’ve just finished a murder novel, featuring an ambassador detective,” he said.
It is doubtful there will be a Ferrero Rocher mentioned in the book.