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UAE wins support from US on Irena

The US will join the International Renewable Energy Agency today and throw its support behind Abu Dhabi's bid to host the headquarters.

SHARM EL SHEIKH // The US will join the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) today and throw its support behind Abu Dhabi's bid to host the headquarters at Masdar City at this evening's vote, according to three US State Department officials interviewed yesterday. The officials did not wish to be named because they did not want to pre-empt an announcement expected to be released in Washington today. A decision by the world's largest energy consuming nation to join Irena would reverse the policy of the previous US administration, under George W Bush, which argued against creating a new institution when existing UN regulatory organisations and the International Energy Agency already dealt with the development of renewable energy.

An endorsement of the bid to host the headquarters would represent an important boost in a months-long lobbying effort to bring the headquarters to Abu Dhabi. "The way I look at it, we've done our homework," said Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the Minister of Foreign Trade. "We capitalised on our strong bilateral relationships with so many countries and also the commitment we have through our diversification of the economy."

Officials from more than 114 member states will gather here to decide among competing bids by Abu Dhabi, Vienna and Bonn, as well as choose a director and allocate budget for the new agency. "We have a very comprehensive, committed bid," Sheikha Lubna said. "The bid is not merely about having an office in there as a secretary. We're committed in many aspects in terms of co-investment with other countries towards renewable energy development."

Irena's creators say it will serve as focal point for information and policy on renewables, and the Government hopes a base in Abu Dhabi would elevate the emirate's status as a global energy player. The UAE Foreign Ministry has mounted a visible and aggressive campaign to bring Irena to Abu Dhabi, with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, concluding a tour of dozens of countries in the past few months, said Ahmed al Za'abi, the UAE ambassador to Egypt.

"The diplomats of the UAE, under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, have exerted unprecedented diplomatic efforts," he said. Mr al Za'abi said that as a diplomat he was "warily optimistic" that the UAE would win the vote. "After meeting the heads of the delegations in Sharm el Sheikh, most of them showed appreciation and support of the Emirates," he said, adding that he thought the percentage of supporters was high.

Sheikha Lubna said the Government was "pretty comfortable and confident" going into the vote. The UAE's delegation kept up the lobbying yesterday: Mr al Za'abi was on hand at the airport to personally greet arriving delegates, and kandoras were a common sight in the hotels among dozens of officials deployed to Egypt to make the case for Abu Dhabi's bid. A number of European countries have also come out in favour of the UAE, including France, Portugal, Spain and Finland, noting that it is better placed than a European city to reach out to developing countries.

Irena will collect information on renewable energy, make recommendations to governments, and even train companies and officials in methods for implementing energy projects, said Arthouros Zervos, the president of the European Renewable Energy Council, who is one of four candidates for the post of director general. It was likely that the group's first priority would be to participate in climate change talks later this year, he said.

From the UAE's point of view, Irena played into a larger objective by the Government to preserve stability in the energy market, since it would promote diversification of energy supply, Mr al Za'abi said. "Even though it is a member of Opec and an exporter of oil, he said, the UAE is interested in alternative energy because of its interest in the stability of the international energy market and the stability of the world economy."

cstanton@thenational.ae mhabboush@thenational.ae

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