x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

'Sheikh Abdullah's drive won us Irena', says team behind the lobby

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a team from Masdar worked for six months to finalise the details of the Irena deal in June 2009.

Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the chief executive of Masdar, attended talks hosted by the International Renewable Energy Agency on June 23, 2013. Delores Johnson / The National
Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the chief executive of Masdar, attended talks hosted by the International Renewable Energy Agency on June 23, 2013. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // "My team and the Masdar team didn't sleep for six months," recalled Lana Nusseibeh, the director of the policy planing department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Emails were constantly being sent back and forth. We lobbied non-stop by phones and emails and in person. Our phones didn't stop ringing. Sheikh Abdullah [bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs] was leading the campaign from his plane while travelling from country to country."

Four years after the decision to award the world's first international agency dedicated to renewable energy to the UAE, Ms Nusseibeh remembers with pride the achievement of the small task force of diplomats and experts working under the direction of Sheikh Abdullah.

The team, which included Dr Sultan Al Jaber, the Minister of State and chief executive of Masdar, triumphed in June 2009, when the UAE became the first country in the developing world to host a major international organisation - the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena).

Ms Nusseibeh said it was "an important milestone in the history of the UAE and testimony of the vision and energy and dynamism of the leadership". "We see Irena as an agency of the future and as part of an international community very much planning for the post hydrocarbon economy and looking for sustainable energy solutions."

Even with Masdar, the world's first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city as testament to the UAE's commitment to sustainability, the team initially thought they had a low chance of winning.

"It was a long shot but as we went along we started gaining momentum," Ms Nusseibeh said.

But then people started to believe that Abu Dhabi was the right place for Irena to be.

"Sheikh Abdullah and Reem Al Hashemi [Minister of State] visited the Pacific Island countries, those most impacted by climate change to convince them to participate," Ms Nusseibeh said.

The team was keen to stress that the UAE did not seek to "own" Irena, but wanted to act as a facilitator.

"It would be revolutionary for a hydrocarbon economy to play a lead role in establishing a renewable energy agency," Ms Nusseibeh said. "We had no economic or political agenda.

"Also, we are at geographical crossroads between Africa, Asia and Europe. One third of the world lives within a direct four-hour flight. We have a rich social tapestry, with almost 200 nationalities living here.

"By the time we went to Sharm El Sheikh we were nervous, but knew that our campaign had a high effect."

The announcement the UAE had won resulted in "the whole team jumping up and clapping, hugging each other".

"There was a great sense of national pride. What we achieved showed that although traditional international politics was always viewed as a game of big powers, a small young country was able to leverage its ideas to persuade much bigger, more established countries, that it is the right place for Irena," Ms Nusseibeh said.

"Ultimately, it was the drive of Sheikh Abdullah and the highest level of leaders that actually won Irena for us.

"This country represents a beacon of hope in an otherwise tough regional environment. What we are doing is a model of development."

Since the establishment of Irena's headquarters in Abu Dhabi, the UAE has set up an energy and climate change department and numerous Emiratis have become specialists in climate change.

"In four years I have seen Irena develop and grow," Ms Nusseibeh said. "It has lived up to our expectations. Knowledge transfer has been evident and extraordinary.

"There has been both economic and social impact on the community.

"Diplomatically, having Irena here has provided a diverse opportunities for exchange and engagement on the critical issue of sustainable energy solutions."