NEW YORK // The UN's environment chief, Achim Steiner, has spoken positively of the UAE's bid to host the headquarters of a global green energy body. Members of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) will meet in Egypt at the end of this month to choose between bids from Abu Dhabi, Vienna, Copenhagen and Bonn.
By encouraging the capital, Mr Steiner, the director of the UN Environment Programme (Unep), joins a chorus of global figures including the former British prime minister Tony Blair, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the League of Arab States. Mr Steiner said building Irena's nerve centre in a non-Western city would send a "positive message" to the developing world and spur governments to embrace clean power.
The German environmentalist's perspective is particularly relevant because his own agency, based in Nairobi, is one of the very few global bodies with its headquarters outside the West. "The history of Unep documents that it is feasible to operate outside the traditional centres of international policymaking," he said. "Especially in this day and age with internet communications, long distances are not the same as they were 30 years ago."
His comments follow support from Mr Moussa, who said "there has to be a first time" for a member of the 22-nation Arab group to host a global agency. Mr Ban said the Government had presented a "strong argument" while Mr Blair stressed the "powerful signal" a UAE victory would send to developing nations. Rapidly industrialising nations in the developing world are increasingly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and are widely seen as key actors in efforts to combat climate change.
By the end of April the UAE, Germany, Austria and Denmark had submitted their bids, including proposals for location and design, a legal framework and funding information. Abu Dhabi plans to house the agency's 120 staff in a purpose-built facility on the fringes of the capital in Masdar City. Foreign ministry officials have campaigned hard, especially since last month's controversial decision to base the Gulf's proposed joint central bank in Riyadh rather than the UAE.
The proposal includes US$135 million (Dh500m) of in-kind and cash support to help the agency in its incubation period until 2015. This is in addition to an annual US$50m from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, which would support Irena-endorsed projects in developing nations over seven years. The agency's headquarters in Masdar City would be provided with 6,436 square metres of office space free of charge.
Delegates representing Irena's 88 member states will vote on the four candidate cities and designate an interim headquarters for the agency during a two-day summit beginning in Sharm el Sheikh on June 29. Competition from the three European cities is fierce, although the Government is counting on the support of the dozen other Irena members from the Arab world, including Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan.
Non-Arab countries such as Italy, the Dominican Republic, Armenia, Kenya and Switzerland have been reported as either backing or speaking favourably of Abu Dhabi's bid. It is also likely to benefit from the European votes being split during the initial voting rounds. But the tender is likely to be hampered by the UAE's relatively weak record on renewable energy and its emission of large quantities of carbon dioxide.
According to the World Bank, the average UAE resident produced 30.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide last year - significantly more than in Denmark (8.5), Austria (8.9) and Germany (9.5).
Mohammed bin Dha'en al Hamili, the Minister of Energy, has sought to address these concerns, saying the UAE has a commitment to "reduce carbon emissions" and to develop "new energy technologies".