irena-launchSo the United Arab Emirates has won the race to host the new International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) beating off competition from Bonn and Vienna.

Never mind that the UAE has the highest per capita carbon footprint in the world, a fact that had attracted strong opposition from other countries. Never mind that the UAE is a large oil and gas exporter.

Never mind that the new Agency is headed by a French civil servant and the UAE and France have recently signed nuclear agreements.  If you believe the spin put out by the UAE in its glossy website to support its candidacy, it wants to be seen as a global hub for renewable energy.

But it is still having to fight off its critics.”Many see that there is a contradiction between us being one of the largest oil exporters in the world and our seeking to house the agency,” Reem al-Hashemi, a state minister, told the AFP news agency in an interview last week. “On the contrary, this confirms the commitment of a fossil fuel exporter to the enhancement of renewable energy. Since we export energy, we want to export all kinds of it,” she added.

Despite the rhetoric, the UAE remains one of the top oil and gas producers and has a huge vested interest in controlling any renewable agency.  The UAE is trying to placate its critics by arguing that the Agency will be located in Masdar, a 22-billion-dollar city near Abu Dhabi that will have zero carbon emissions.

However, the person elected to head IRENA is France’s Helene Pelosse, a French ministerial official who beat challengers from Denmark, Greece and Spain. It is Pelosse’s appointment that is now central to accusations that the nuclear industry is trying to hijack the renewable energy agency so that it can include nuclear power as a renewable technology.

Adding to the rumours is the fact that France, which recently signed a nuclear co-operation agreement with the UAE, supported Abu Dhabi’s bid to host the Agency.

Eric Martinot, lead author of the REN21 Renewable Energy Global Status Report and a Worldwatch Institute senior fellow, argues that if Abu Dhabi was selected, IRENA would be “nuclear-tainted”.

“UAE has expressed its intentions to rapidly become a ‘model’ for promoting nuclear power,” Martinot wrote in an open letter to renewable energy supporters. “[Choosing Abu Dhabi] raises the question of whether IRENA will be an effective change agent for renewables (i.e. promoting renewables instead of nuclear power), or will be merely an appendage to a nuclear agenda.”

Many IRENA supporters had believed that the best option would have been for Bonn to host the Agency with Hans Jørgen Koch, Denmark’s leading renewable energy policy expert for the last three decades, as a head.

Pelosse hit back against the nuclear accusations in an interview before she was elected, by saying “The idea that IRENA would be tainted by nuclear interests is simply wrong: firstly, [nuclear] is not in its statutes. Second, there already is an international organization in charge of nuclear energy. There is no way IRENA is ever going to deal with nuclear energy.”

We will have to wait and see as to what happens, but we do know that nuclear-proponents have long argued that nuclear should be seen as a renewable technology.


  • This article is “tainted” with hypocrisy. Germany is home to 17. Nuclear plants, and is one of the largest exporter of automobiles – the very tools that burn Abu Dhabi’s oil.

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