The history of the IEA began with the 1973-1974 Middle East War crisis and its immediate aftermath. While oil producing countries appeared relatively well organized to utilize their new oil based economic and political power, many OECD countries found themselves inadequately equipped with the information and organization necessary to meet the corresponding challenges.

For the most part, these countries permitted excessive and even wasteful and inefficient use of energy - and of oil in particular. Energy conservation measures were woefully underdeveloped and oil production potential was not fully realized, nor was sufficient investment devoted to the development of alternative energy sources. They had also yet to devise a workable system for responding to serious disruptions in oil supply and their organizational arrangements for co-operation could not enable them to cope effectively with the institutional implications of those situations.

Signature of the Establishing Agreement of the IEA, 18 November 1974 (Photograph: OECD)

Signature of the Agreement Establishing the IEA, 18 November 1974. Left to right: Ulf Lantzke, Special Counsellor for Energy to the OECD Secretary-General; Etienne Davignon, Belgian Foreign Ministry, Chairman of the IEA-OECD Governing Board; Emile Van Lennep, OECD Secretary-General; Charles Wootton, OECD Deputy Secretary-General (Photograph: OECD)

The policy and institutional lessons of the crisis led swiftly in November 1974 to the establishment of the IEA with a broad mandate on energy security and other questions of energy policy co-operation among Member countries. The main policy decisions and the Agency framework were firmly anchored in the IEA treaty called the “Agreement on an International Energy Program”, and the new Agency was to be hosted at the OECD in Paris. The Agency would become the focal point for energy co-operation on such issues as: security of supply, long-term policy, information “transparency”, energy and the environment, research and development and international energy relations.

While these remain key aspects of its work, the IEA has evolved and expanded over the decades. It is today at the heart of global dialogue on energy, providing authoritative statistics and analysis and examining the full spectrum of energy issues, advocating policies that will enhance the reliability, affordability and sustainability of energy in its 30 members countries and beyond.

The original founding members of the IEA in 1974 were Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway (under a special Agreement), Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States. Joining in the following years were Greece (1976),  New Zealand (1977), Australia (1979), Portugal (1981), Finland (1992), France (1992), Hungary (1997), Czech Republic (2001), Republic of Korea (2002), Slovak Republic (2007),  Poland (2008), Estonia (2014), and more recently Mexico (2018).

Since it was founded, the IEA has had seven Executive Directors:

  • Ulf Lantzke, Germany (1975-1984)
  • Helga Steeg, Germany (1984-1994)
  • Robert Priddle, United Kingdom (1994-2003)
  • Claude Mandil, France (2003-2007)
  • Nobuo Tanaka, Japan (2007-2011) 
  • Maria van der Hoeven, Netherlands (2011-2015)
  • Fatih Birol, Turkey (Since 2015)