• English

Geneva, 22 January 2001





Mr. Chairman,Members of the Advisory Board,Colleagues,This month saw the beginning of a new century and a new millennium. Perhaps, this is a good omen for the Gas Centre since it is also entering a new phase in its evolution. We have a relatively new Bureau (Executive), just recently installed, and the beginnings of a new project team. Moreover, there are new issues to be addressed.In Europe, we are witnessing the liberalisation of the electricity and gas markets, the structural transformation of gas markets and companies, the emergence of the Middle East as a potential new major gas supplier for Europe, and the construction of the Blue Stream Project across the Black Sea. Then, there is the new green paper by the European Commission on security of supply, world oil price instability, and the continuing global efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.While not all of these developments and trends are encouraging, the overall outlook for the natural gas industry is positive. Many of the current trends bode well for the industry. A case in point is the continued concern over the environment and, most notably, the climate change problem. This has led to a renewed debate on the role of renewables in the energy balance. It seems, however, that while renewables, such as solar, wind, biomass and hydro power, can contribute in meeting the world’s growing energy needs, they are, nevertheless, not likely to contribute in a major way, nor are they likely to displace fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.In these circumstances, natural gas has a vital and pivotal role to play in bridging the transition from the current set of fuels to a more sustainable set over the longer term. Indeed, because of its less polluting nature as well as for economic reasons, natural gas has become today’s fuel of choice.The downside to this is that natural gas has once again become the object of political attention. On the one hand, governments are opening up and liberalizing gas markets to improve economic efficiency but, on the other hand, they are concerned about growing demand, growing import dependency and their consequences on the security of natural gas supplies.Energy security seems to be again an issue on the agenda. We all remember that the concern about energy security was uppermost in the minds of energy policy makers during the 1970s and early 1980s when energy supply and demand were tightly balanced and energy markets were rocked by two sharp oil price increases. With the relatively ‘easier’ energy market conditions since the mid-1980s, public concern about energy security, and the attention devoted to it by policy makers, receded somewhat. But today, this concern is on the upswing.You, as experts, can add a lot more to these few words on the rapidly changing market and policy environment that I shared with you. You certainly have much "food for thought".In this respect, the Gas Centre offers you a unique and ideal forum to address these emerging issues, among yourselves and with governments. Despite different interests and at times conflicting interests, you and governments, through the Centre as well as through other organs of the ECE, such as the Working Party on Gas, can meet to develop common understandings that can facilitate the convergence of policies, norms and practices as well as the integration of markets and networks. This is good for you and it is also good for our respective countries and peoples.The Gas Centre has had a very successful five years. The record speaks for itself.But there are new challenges and opportunities, so we need to look forward. Many of you have already met Tans van Kleef, the new Project Manager of the Gas Centre. We are very fortunate and very pleased to have him. During the course of this meeting, you will have the opportunity to hear proposals from him on how to move forward to identify and establish new orientations and activities for the Centre.We are also very fortunate and pleased to have Yannick Guerrini for another six months. He is not new, but this is fortunate for us, since we do need some continuity in the Centre, particularly in the data base and IT functions. In this regard, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Gaz de France for extending his secondment with the Centre.As Executive Secretary of the Commission, I am keenly interested in your activities. The UN has had a long and fruitful relationship with the business community. Nonetheless, the current Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, has decided to further intensify this cooperation. Likewise, under my stewardship, I would like to see the Commission’s activities with the business sector expanded and strengthened. There is much we can collectively do to promote a stable and favourable framework for business and development.I know that you have a very full day of discussions before you on your programme of work for the coming year, and on ways to consolidate and strengthen the Centre so as to make it more relevant and useful to you and to the UN as a whole. I wish you fruitful discussions and I look forward to your conclusions, recommendations and decisions.

Thank you for your kind attention.