Abu Dhabi Chosen to Host IRENA

MasdarMembers of an expanded  International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) have chosen Abu Dhabi as the agency's first headquarters and French diplomat Hélène Pelosse as its first director-general.

A coalition of African and Arab nations celebrated locating the agency in the United Arab Emirates, praising the selection as a success for the developing world. Despite widespread political support, the chosen location and director-general faced criticism from within the renewable energy community due to concerns that nominating countries were attracting votes in exchange for nuclear energy deals.

Representatives from 136 countries [PDF] participated in a summit this week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to decide the clean energy agency's headquarters and leadership. Prior to the vote, Australia, Costa Rica, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom joined the agency.

Major industrialized countries such as the United States and Japan were initially hesitant to join IRENA because of the existence of other organizations that provide advice for renewable energy development, such as the United Nations and the International Energy Agency.

Hermann Scheer, a member of the German parliament who first called for IRENA's formation in 1990, said that neither of those organizations provides sufficient focus on renewable energy.

"The fact that 136 states have signed IRENA's statute will rebut the skeptics. There does not exist another international governmental organization which had so many members at its formation," said Scheer, who chairs the World Council for Renewable Energy, in a statement. "It is now crucial to swiftly set up a powerful organization and to endow it with the necessary resources to support member states in drafting policies to introduce renewable energies nationally."

The headquarters will be located in Abu Dhabi's Masdar City, a new planned city that aims to produce zero net carbon emissions and zero net waste. To raise support for hosting IRENA, the UAE government committed $22 million of annual support through 2015. The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development also offered $50 million in annual loans to finance renewable energy projects in developing countries.

"We in the UAE extend our hands to all countries of the world. The agency is not exclusively for the Emiratis. It is an international asset," UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan told the Emirates News Agency. "All countries of the world have a right in the agency."

Competing cities Bonn, Germany, and Vienna, Austria, withdrew their bids to host the agency at the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting. The countries' leaders forged a deal that will instead divide IRENA among the new headquarters in Abu Dhabi, a center of technology and innovation in Bonn, and an inter-organizational liaison office in Vienna.

The compromise "reflects the spirit of cooperation that is needed for IRENA to grow into a strong and effective organization," an IRENA statement said.

Copenhagen, Denmark, was the fourth city nominated to host the agency, but the Danish government withdrew from the competition prior to this week's meeting in an effort to support a Bonn location.

An Abu Dhabi location received support from the African Union, France, Spain, Italy, and several Arab nations.

Clean energy advocates raised concerns that the UAE and France were attracting votes for one other in an effort to support unrelated interests such as new nuclear energy projects. The advocates supported their complaints in part by pointing to deals that the United States and France finalized earlier this year to develop several nuclear reactors in the UAE.

Pelosse, the newly elected interim director-general, said in an interview with the Worldwatch Institute that these concerns were unfounded.

"The idea that IRENA would be tainted by nuclear interests is simply wrong," said Pelosse, the French Minister of State's deputy head of staff in charge of international affairs. "Firstly, it is not in its statutes. Second, there already is an international organization in charge of nuclear energy. There is no way IRENA is ever going to deal with nuclear energy."

Pelosse led last year's European Union negotiations to form binding targets of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020. She has also helped design France's renewable energy policy and the Mediterranean Solar Plan, an effort to develop 20 gigawatts capacity of new renewable energy resources in the Mediterranean region by 2020.

"Ms. Pelosse has established a long record of outstanding experience and profound knowledge of the renewable sector as well as strong communication and representation skills," an IRENA statement said.

The other director-general candidates were Juan Ormazabal of Spain, Arthouros Zervos of Greece, and Hans Jǿrgen Koch of Denmark.

Ben Block is a staff writer with the Worldwatch Institute. He can be reached at bblock@worldwatch.org.

This article is a product of Eye on Earth, Worldwatch Institute's online news service. For permission to reprint Eye on Earth content, please contact Juli Diamond at jtier@worldwatch.org