The origins of the World Energy Congress date back to shortly after the First World War, when visionary Scotsman Daniel Dunlop decided to bring together leading energy experts to discuss current and emerging energy issues.
Founded in the aftermath of war, it has withstood many changes, from geopolitical and economic upheavals to a complete shift in the way people understand and use energy. It has had to adapt to a changing world without ever straying from the initial concept of an organisation that is impartial, objective and realistic in its analyses and in its agendas for action in order to promote sustainable energy for all.
Then called the World Power Conference, the first event was held in London in 1924 and was attended by 1,700 delegates from 40 countries. Since then, and with editions all over the globe, the World Energy Congress has become a stage for the global energy sector.
World Energy Congress: Fast Facts
Daniel Dunlop originally wanted to initiate a World Economic Conference, as opposed to a World Power Conference.
The first World Power Conference, held in 1924, was: “to consider the future of energy resources” – H.G Wells
The Berlin 1930 Conference had a particularly notable set of speakers: Albert Einstein lectured there on “The Space, Field and Ether Problem in Physics”. Sir Arthur Eddington – a distinguished astrophysicist who first explained Einstein’s theory of relativity in English and led the first expedition to confirm it – said in his address that, in the future, “subatomic energy would provide the plain diet for engines previously pampered with delicacies like coal and oil”.
As early as 1936, the World Power Conference stressed the importance of energy for development and social equity.
In 1947, the United Nations granted the World Power Conference consultancy status, and in 1968 the organisation was formally rechristened the World Energy Conference.
The 9th World Energy Conference, held in Detroit in 1974, attracted 4,000 delegates from 69 countries. U.S. President Gerald Ford said in his opening statement: “No single country can solve the energy problem by itself”.
At the 1977 World Energy Conference in Istanbul, Saudi Arabia, half of the OPEC nations were absent. The conference turned to a long list of alternative energy sources to oil, coal and natural gas.
1970s & 1980s
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the World Energy Conference focused on the development of the best mix of energy resources, but increasingly vocal environmental groups marched in protest against nuclear risk and pollution from conventional fuels.
‘Energy Olympics’, the nickname for the World Energy Congress, was first referred to at the 1980 Munich Congress by the Mayor of Munich. He was talking about the competition amongst nations for energy resources, and the fact that success or failure was, by many national regimes, seen in terms of national survival – similar to athletes at the Olympic Games.
In the early 1990s, sustainability came to be foregrounded at the World Energy Conference (Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997).
Pierre Gadonneix, World Energy Conference Chairman from 2007 to 2013, said: “With the failure of the Kyoto and Doha trade negotiations, the need for a strong global governance of energy is more important than ever.”
Gadonneix recalls Dunlop’s original vision of international cooperation and mutual understanding of expertise, expectations and demands. The World Energy Conference continues to be, in H. G. Wells’ 1924 phrase, “a breath of common sense” in a global age.
As Marie-José Nadeau, World Energy Council Chair from 2013 to 2016, said: “in a world where most non-governmental organisations have clear partisan agendas, the World Energy Council stands out as a unique umbrella grouping that represents a wide range of beliefs and views. They are however united in the belief that energy provides unprecedented benefits to mankind.”