SHARM EL SHEIKH // The International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) headquarters in Abu Dhabi will be in operation before January 1, with the group looking immediately to seize the initiative on climate change and renewable energy, officials said yesterday. Sultan al Jaber, the chief executive of Masdar, the Government's green energy firm, said the arrival of hundreds of environmental experts - and the international attention they bring with them - would help the emirate to diversify the economy into renewables.
"There will definitely be a spill-over impact of having such an important agency based in Abu Dhabi - on the Abu Dhabi economy and the neighbouring economies as well," he said. Temporary offices in Mohammed bin Zayed City will host the group until its permanent headquarters are completed in Masdar City, the carbon-neutral development at the edge of the capital, late in 2011 or early 2012, he said.
UAE officials were highly pleased yesterday after Monday's triumph over the German and Austrian bids to host Irena. The two European countries agreed to withdraw moments before a scheduled vote on Monday afternoon. With that victory, said Mr al Jaber, Abu Dhabi had linked the fortunes of its economy with the current global priority placed on green energy. "The global agenda right now is about renewable energy, it is about clean energy and sustainable development," he said.
Masdar was focused on three objectives: "energy security, climate change and sustainable human development", he said. "Guess what? All these concerns of Abu Dhabi ... are all being addressed by an agency called Irena. The mission of Irena has been our mission in Abu Dhabi. And that's why you see this natural fit for it." Irena's newly elected director general, Hélène Pelosse, said assembling a team of experts would take months, but the agency hoped to become involved in the debate over a new global climate change treaty later this year.
Diplomats will convene in Copenhagen in December to establish a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which expires in 2012. Asked to name the functions of the agency, Ms Pelosse listed "policy advice, capacity building, and Irena advocating for renewables worldwide". "Capacity building" refers to efforts to train government officials and businessmen around the world on renewable energy.
The group will also collate information on renewable-energy projects, much as the Paris-based International Energy Agency offers reports and data on the use of conventional energy sources. Irena's experts will initially be borrowed on "secondment" from the governments of member states, Ms Pelosse said. The agency will eventually employ 150 people at the headquarters site by the middle of next year.
Irena formally adopted a work plan that placed emphasis on policy advice and capacity building in a vote yesterday. The group will focus in particular on developing energy sources from biomass, such as plants and agricultural waste, which is a major source of energy in most of the poorest regions of the world. The group will meet in October, and hold a general assembly involving all 136 member states every year, said Ms Pelosse, who was elected by secret ballot late on Monday evening.
She currently serves as a deputy in the French ministry of ecology, energy and sustainable development. Mr al Jaber, who played a key role in Abu Dhabi's bid, emphasised the historic occasion of the win. "What happened yesterday is a great achievement for us and the United Arab Emirates," he said. "We would not have planned on it six months ago when Irena was established." It was evidence of the UAE's increasingly sophisticated foreign policy, he said, noting the whirlwind tour by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, of more than 90 countries in the last few months, to drum up support.