x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

International Renewable Energy Agency meets in capital to elect leader

The International Renewable Energy Agency, the UN agency that is to set up headquarters in Abu Dhabi, is to decide on a permanent leader.

Irena's first assembly opens today.
Irena's first assembly opens today.

As the curtain rises today in Abu Dhabi on the meeting of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), members from around the world have a big decision to make: who is going to be its first permanent leader?

The UN agency tasked with promoting the adoption of alternative energy is in the capital for a three-day session, and delegates from more than 60 countries will choose today between the interim director general Adnan Amin and Pedro Marin, the former Spanish energy secretary.

"It's a long, convoluted process," said Mahenau Agha, a spokeswoman at Irena. "There's a long consultation that will happen with all the member states."

Putting in place a director general after the October departure of its former head, Helene Pelosse, will be critical for Irena as it seeks more member countries and puts its financial matters in order.

Delegates will cast secret ballots today unless a unanimous consensus emerges at the start. Their selection will be made official tomorrow, when Irena has its first meeting as an official organisation and will gain the power to demand mandatory financial contributions.

Mr Amin, a Kenyan citizen, was director of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Co-ordination and later deputy director general before being selected to head Irena after Ms Pelosse's departure.

Mr Marin, who served as Spain's energy secretary until this year, gained a name as a champion of renewable energy, particularly solar.

But when solar subsidies were retroactively cut in December he defended the move, saying the Spanish government needed to keep energy prices under control during economic uncertainty.

Mr Amin and Mr Marin were the last standing from 69 applicants for the post. The winner will have to set the tone of the relationship with Abu Dhabi and help the agency increase its budget.

Irena has been closely affiliated with the UAE since June 2009 when the country won a campaign to host the agency's international headquarters, the first global base of any inter-governmental agency to be located in the Middle East.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Irena now work in tandem, with a team at the ministry dedicated to the agency's affairs.

Irena is scheduled in 2013 to move to Masdar City, the emirate's carbon-neutral development, which is eager to house such prominent anchor tenants. It will share a building with Masdar, the Government's clean-energy company in charge of the development.

Irena is also on track to open an office in Bonn, Germany, this spring.

Administrative issues, which include adding to the list of 150 countries that have signed Irena's statute, will remain in Abu Dhabi.

The new director general will need to persuade countries such as China, Russia and Brazil to formally join.