x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Renew the mandate and Irena's promise

When the International Renewable Energy Agency last claimed headlines, its French director general had abruptly resigned amid budgetary shortfalls and personality conflicts. These days, the clouds seem to have broken.

When the International Renewable Energy Agency last claimed headlines, its French director general had abruptly resigned amid budgetary shortfalls and personality conflicts.

These days, the clouds seem to have broken. A new director general has formally been appointed, high-level ministers are attending meetings, and the number of nations warming up to a renewable energy network is growing: 149 states have signed and 69 have ratified Irena's charter.

The momentum was palpable at the group's first assembly this week in Abu Dhabi, where policymakers met to discuss the agency's operational framework.

Admittedly, forming committees, reviewing budgets and listing regulations is not the most scintillating of tasks. But establishing the foundations of how Irena will work, who it will collaborate with, and how countries can cooperate to produce and use renewable energy will depend on these first steps. As the new director Dr Adnan Amin remarked: "Renewable energy presents us with an alternative to current polluting models that we have."

This vision is already apparent in the Masdar Institute, whose faculty and students engage in research that has the potential to change the way we power our world. Desalination, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology are but some research areas that policymakers hope will produce renewable energy solutions.

As Irena moves forward, it will have to surmount a number of challenges, including convincing the remaining BRICs - Brazil, Russia and China - to sign up along with India. While China and Russia have pledged renewable energy targets, their booming economies tend to prioritise growth over efficiency. Soon, this will not be a viable choice.

Developing countries such as the UAE will also have to ensure that their intellectual property laws are sturdy enough to attract technology-focused companies. Ensuring the protection of patents and copyrights will be integral to establishing the UAE as a trustworthy centre to conduct business and undertake research. Without such assurances, Irena risks being clouded by a progressive mandate that has little practical application.