x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Abu Dhabi 'can bring Irena to life'

Sheikha Lubna says choosing the capital for the renewable energy agency would send a positive message to developing world.

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi.
Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi.

NEW YORK // The UAE and Germany have sent top-level envoys to Manhattan to drum up support in advance of a vote to decide which country will host the headquarters of a global green energy body. Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the Minister of Foreign Trade, met diplomats in the corridors of UN headquarters as her rival, Bärbel Dieckmann, the mayor of Bonn, also sought to win votes in the contest for the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena).

The competition to host Irena is heating up, with the fledgling agency's 98 members set to choose between Abu Dhabi and Bonn, which have emerged as the front-runners, as well as Vienna and Copenhagen, in a secret ballot at a two-day summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh beginning on June 29. Speaking during a General Assembly debate on Thursday, Sheikha Lubna called on UN members to back Abu Dhabi's bid, claiming that a "developing country would be the most appropriate venue for the work of the agency".

Ms Dieckmann hosted some 80 diplomats at Germany's UN mission on Wednesday, reminding guests that her nation's scientists and engineers possessed a wealth of expertise in green power. Sheikha Lubna matched the German reception the following day with a buffet in the delegates' dining room of UN headquarters. In an interview with The National, Sheikha Lubna said the UAE's effort was not just about the prestige associated with hosting a global agency, but part of the Government's responsibility to foster the use of green technology.

"We want it because we believe we can do it," she said. "It is not just about locating the first global agency in the Arab world. It will be one of the first agencies in the South. That's important to us - but it's not the only reason." The UAE bid would see Irena's nerve centre built free of charge in 6,436 square metres of office space in the world's first carbon-neutral and waste-free development, Masdar City, on the fringes of the capital.

The tender includes US$135 million (Dh500m) a year of in-kind and cash support to help the agency in its incubation period until 2015 and a further $50m a year to support Irena-endorsed projects in developing nations over seven years. This week, the UAE became the first member to ratify the agency's statute. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that demonstrated a commitment to "bring the developed and developing world together and to bring Irena's mission to life".

Bonn's bid similarly includes free office space, but is less focused on money, with voluntary contributions amounting to only ?3m (Dh15m) a year from next year and an additional one million euros a year to finance Irena events. Instead, the Germans claim they have more experience than their rivals, and situating Irena on the banks of the Rhine among 19 UN organisations would make a convenient setting for an international body. Bonn's advocates stake a special claim to Irena, describing the idea of a global green energy body as the brainchild of German environmentalists.

While the bids of both Abu Dhabi and Bonn have strengths, each has weaknesses. Critics describe the UAE as a hydrocarbon-rich upstart that has not earned the right to host a renewable energy agency. They point to the World Bank's Little Green Data Book, which shows that the average UAE resident produced 30.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide last year - significantly more than citizens of Germany (9.5), Austria (8.9) or Denmark (8.5).

Defending the country against such criticism, Sheikha Lubna said: "We have a proven track record in the diversification of our economy. We are an oil-producing country, yet 61 per cent of our GDP is non-oil. Now we are looking at the diversification of energy sources." Critics of Bonn's bid say city officials are simply trying to find a use for office blocks vacant since Germany's bureaucracy shifted to Berlin in the 1990s after reunification.

UAE officials have campaigned hard, especially since last month, when Ridayh was awarded the headquarters for the Gulf's proposed joint central bank. Abu Dhabi's bid has garnered support from key global figures, including Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, who said "there has to be a first time" for a member of the 22-nation bloc to host a global agency. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, said the Government had presented a "strong argument", while Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, lauded the "powerful signal" a UAE victory would send to developing nations.

Achim Steiner, director of the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme, one of the few global agencies with headquarters outside the West, said it was "feasible to operate outside the traditional centres of international policy-making". jreinl@thenational.ae