The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is an intergovernmental organisation established to promote the use of energy from renewable sources on a global scale. Officially established in Bonn on 26 January 2009 with 136 States signing IRENA’s statute (the Statute), IRENA aims to provide advice and support to industrialised and developing countries alike. The first meeting of the Assembly of IRENA will be held in 2010, when the Statute will be ratified and come into force.  

RENA in the Middle East

The following Middle East countries have signed the Statute: Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Syria, the United Arab Emirates (the UAE) and Yemen.

Even more crucially for the Middle East, Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, was elected as the agency’s interim headquarters. The headquarters will be based in Abu Dhabi’s Masdar project, the planned zero carbon emission city being built by the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, a subsidiary of Mubadala Development Company.

Whilst the UAE currently has the world’s largest per capita carbon footprint, Abu Dhabi in particular has in recent years been leading the way in encouraging the development of renewable technologies, not least with its Masdar initiative. As the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said:

“What is specifically commendable about the UAE efforts in nurturing the renewable energy industry is the unprecedented political will that has already manifested itself in the Masdar initiative.”

The UAE has also offered to support IRENA with a grant of US$136 million over a six year period, as well as covering all operational costs in perpetuity. Furthermore the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development has created a special endowment of up to US$50 million per year, to be used for loans to support renewable energy projects in the developing world.

IRENA’s centre of innovation and technology will be located in Bonn and the agency’s liaison office for cooperation with other organisations active in the field will be located in Vienna. Ms HÈlËne Pelosse has been appointed as the interim director-general of IRENA.

IRENA’S goals

IRENA aims to encourage the global adoption and sustainable use of all types of renewable energy, whilst taking into account the domestic priorities of the individual member States. The agency has said that it will do this by adopting a “two-pronged approach” to implement both renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. IRENA aims to achieve this by providing advice to its members on selecting and adapting energy sources, technology and system configurations, business models, as well as organisational and regulatory frameworks. IRENA will also focus on helping countries to make the best use of available funding.

IRENA will also develop and maintain a knowledge base, to include information on the potential of renewable energies, frameworks and policies, investment mechanisms, technology, electricity grids, conservation and storage and efficiency issues.

IRENA will work together with other existing organisations and initiatives that share its aim to promote the use of energy from renewable sources, including the International Energy Agency, the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and the World Bank. IRENA has said that although for the time being it is not affiliated to the United Nations, consideration should be given in the long term to the integration of IRENA into the United Nations.

Conclusion

IRENA represents a strong commitment on the part of industrialised and developing nations to co-operation and the advancement of the use of renewable and sustainable energy sources. For the Middle East, IRENA provides a real opportunity to address the region’s over reliance on hydrocarbons. The establishment of IRENA’s headquarters in Abu Dhabi and the commitment of the Middle Eastern member states to this initiative will greatly assist in reducing the Middle East’s carbon emissions as well as providing an opportunity to meet the region’s increasing demands for energy.