UAE: Shaping the Global Future of Renewable Energy

Thanks to the insightful vision of its wise leadership, the United Arab Emirates plays a leading role in today’s renewable energy industry and climate change issues. The UAE’s commitment towards this field was acknowledged when the country was chosen as the permanent headquarters for the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in Abu Dhabi.

Under the leadership of the President, His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the country has become an international platform for cooperation and global debates on renewable energy and climate change topics; the country hosts a series of dedicated conferences and international events including the World Future Energy Summit (WFES), which is held in Abu Dhabi annually.

In 2010, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) established the Directorate of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) within the ministry to better represent the country; the directorate’s establishment was a direct result of the UAE’s winning bid to host IRENA’s permanent headquarters. The DECC aims to promote the UAE’s participation in international negotiations on clean energy, organise and coordinate local efforts on climate change, and protect the country’s interests in relevant negotiations.

This day, Saturday, June 29, marks the fourth anniversary since the UAE was unanimously chosen as the permanent headquarters for IRENA. The decision was made at IRENA’s Second Preparatory Commission session held in Sharm El Shaikh, Egypt in June 2009.

The UAE Foreign Minister, Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, reiterated the UAE’s commitment as an active partner to both IRENA and the member states in promoting the renewable energy sector’s growth in order to effectively compete in global markets.

Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed said: “The UAE is a supportive international hub for innovation in the field of renewable energy. Thus, we look forward to working with IRENA members to promote the adoption of renewable energy solutions on a large scale in various parts of the world.”

“The UAE is committed to innovation in this field, stemming from our firm belief in the bright future that awaits renewable energy resources, which play a vital role in providing electricity to rural areas, and limiting carbon emissions and their repercussions in terms of climate change,” he added.

He expressed his appreciation for the trust bestowed on the UAE, which is exemplified by its designation as the permanent home of IRENA. He affirmed the UAE’s ability to assume such a responsibility and provide strong foundations ensuring action. These efforts are based on constructive dialogue among the parties to achieve real progress, which will benefit all members.

“The world is watching IRENA and hoping to witness its success in finding appropriate solutions that effectively tackle the harmful effects of climate change. We are confident that IRENA will further position itself as an efficient platform to achieve energy security and ensure access for all,” he continued.

Since Abu Dhabi’s designation as the permanent headquarters for IRENA, the UAE has worked tirelessly to provide necessary resources and capacities to ensure IRENA’s success and support its strategy, goals, and future plans. This is congruent with the UAE’s view that renewable energy is the energy of the future.

The UAE’s winning bid reflects the world’s appreciation and respect for the wise policies and approach adopted by the country’s leadership. It also demonstrates international confidence in the UAE’s renewable energy approach and in its ability to host IRENA’s headquarters with efficiency. Moreover, this victory acknowledges the UAE’s efforts to raise awareness by leading projects and plans on renewable energy.

Furthermore, confirming the UAE as global organisation’s permanent home establishes an outstanding position for the country on the international map; the country is seen as a key player in advocating the world’s interests and priorities. It also reflects the most important diplomatic achievement in the UAE’s history, led by Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

In the period preceding the voting process, Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan led the UAE’s delegation with effective planning, a comprehensive work processes, determination and confidence, with the support of many local and private entities.

The UAE delegation visited more than 70 countries as part of its bid campaign which was faced with strong competition from existing players in the field of renewable energy, that had a longstanding history with international organizations; namely, Germany, Austria and Denmark. The UAE, which ranked fourth in the competition, was faced with a difficult challenge, ultimately overcoming these challenges to achieve an impressive diplomatic victory.

This mission enhanced diplomatic relations between the UAE and a number of countries, and more diplomatic relations were established with island nations and countries of the Pacific region. This has yielded a partnership program with the Pacific countries as well as $50 million in annual grants dedicated to finance renewable energy projects in developing countries; these plans were announced by Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The mission also yielded economic partnerships and relations with a number of South American countries in which Emirati officials had not yet visited.

The Emirati diplomatic mission was characterised by three efficient features. The first characteristic is that the mission chose direct communication through visits to countries; a difficult, but more effective approach. Extensive visits allowed a real opportunity for interaction, dialogue, and advocacy on the UAE bid.

Secondly, the delegation acted with the utmost efficiency and professionalism to highlight the country’s position. It provided explicit numbers and statistics, which reflected the country’s commitment to renewable energy, as well as the support that it would provide to IRENA. Through his tours, Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan managed to submit the country’s bid effectively. This guaranteed the UAE a unanimous endorsement during IRENA’s Second Preparatory Commission session in Sharm El Shaikh.

Thirdly, despite time constraints, the UAE diplomatic delegations managed to visit a large number of countries throughout the world, according to a carefully chosen action plan. This represents a significant achievement of the UAE’s foreign affairs, and reflects the strong will and deep sense of patriotism from Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. His Highness diligently endeavored until the final moments to achieve this important national milestone.

Moreover, this achievement marks another addition to the UAE’s roster of achievements. It represents a victory for the Arab world and developing nations, as it is the first time an international organisation with global membership has established its permanent headquarters in the Middle East.

This achievement empowers this region to position itself as an active player in building impetus behind renewable energy issues, which are important issues on the global agenda.

The extensive diplomatic mission led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, coupled with the efforts of concerned entities in the country, such as Masdar, has demonstrated the UAE’s commitment to support, develop and promote the renewable energy sector globally. The UAE has also earned the international community’s trust, which is evidenced through the country being chosen as permanent home of IRENA.

IRENA was officially established in Bonn, Germany on January 26, 2009 during the Founding Conference. A total of 75 countries signed the agency’s statute.

During its initial four years, IRENA made great strides to become a comprehensive global organization comprising most of the world’s countries. One hundred and six countries are among its current membership roster. IRENA seeks to encourage the diversity of energy resources, and promote widespread adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy projects and solutions across the globe.

IRENA has achieved important success in transitioning towards the global use of renewable energy. It provides practical advice and support to industrial and developing countries, and assists them to improve their regulatory framework and build capacity. The agency also facilitates access to relevant information including reliable data on the potential of renewable energy, best practices, and effective financial mechanisms based on state-of-the-art technological expertise.

Furthermore, in the UAE, the agency has contributed to developing local skills via training programs and direct communication with government institutions and universities.

Every year, more than 1,200 delegates from 160 countries and 30 international organizations and academic institutions, as well as representatives from the private sector, meet in Abu Dhabi to take part in IRENA’s annual meeting. They also partake in meetings of the agency’s executive council and other committees. During these meetings, the global community discusses issues related to the agency’s work agenda, policies, and strategies that aim to enhance the widespread use of renewable energy resources across the world.

Since its inception, the IRENA has convened three General Assembly sessions in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi. IRENA’s Council has held five meetings.

In the first session, held in April 2011, the UAE pledged to pursue its ambitious initiatives to support innovation and development, and to deploy renewable energy solutions and clean technologies. It also reiterated its commitment to developing new energy sources and promoting their use on a wide scale, commercial level in order to supply sustainable and cleaner energy for the future generations.

The General Assembly witnessed a high-level ministerial round table meeting on the strategic ways to achieve the goals sought by IRENA member countries.

The meeting was attended by approximately 800 delegates and more than 90 ministers from 150 countries, as well as a number of UN agency representatives, international agencies and non-governmental bodies. During the meeting, Adnan Amin was appointed director-general of IRENA for a four-year term.

In the second session, held in January 2012, the agency’s work program was approved, as well as the budget, which was estimated at USD 25 million in 2011.

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, took part in the meeting. Addressing nearly 1,000 participants representing 137 countries, the European Union, and 57 organizations, he lauded the meeting’s resounding success of the “International Year of Sustainable Energy for All” initiative launch, which was announced during the World Future Energy Summit.

Renewable energy is one of the three pillars of SE4A, with a target to double the world’s share of renewable energy by 2030, alongside goals for universal energy access and doubling energy efficiency. Because of its expertise and broad legitimacy, IRENA was appointed as the lead for the renewable energy. “Sustainability cannot be achieved through individual actions. IRENA has provided the required political drive in this regard, as well as the necessary guidance for our efforts,” said Ban Ki Moon.

IRENA’s third meeting, held last January within the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2013, discussed the declining cost of renewable energy and advanced technologies that make its generation and distribution less expensive and more efficient.

The meeting witnessed three significant events. The first was the unveiling of a planned expansion of the Global Atlas of Renewable Energy initiative. It is the largest project in the world for the assessment of solar and wind energy providing vital internet-based data on the quality of renewable energy sources across the world. Twenty-five countries, including the UAE, pledged to provide data and technological support for the resources assessment project.

The Global Atlas initiative is the largest of its kind assessing and sorting the available renewable energy sources worldwide. It provides data and resource maps from leading research organisations and companies. The initiative offers an integrated and detailed mapping of solar and wind energy, with plans for expansion in the coming two years to include other forms of renewable energy.

The Global Atlas initiative is an internet-based working platform available on IRENA’s website. It has been designed to raise awareness on the potentials of renewable energy sources, and to help companies and organizations that seek to invest in new markets. The initiative is a highly-efficient tool that complements international efforts to redouble the share of renewable energy in the world by 2030.

Another significant event at IRENA’s third session was the launch of a global roadmap for renewable energy. This roadmap provides guidance to the United Nations and member states on ways to achieve the 2030 goal of doubling the share of renewable energy across the world.

During the assembly’s third session, IRENA began welcoming online applications for first tranche of the USD350 million concessional loans from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) over seven years of funding cycles to boost renewable energy projects in developing countries.

Moreover, the UAE also announced its formal ratification of its headquarters agreement with IRENA, confirming its position as the global hub for renewable energy, and the first international organization headquartered in the Middle East.

The agreement also formally accords IRENA with the rights, privileges, and protections of an international organization.

During this year, IRENA applauded the activation of the world’s largest operational Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) facility to date; the “Shams 1” project. It was designed and developed by Shams Power Company as the Middle East turns to clean energy to fuel future growth.

The Shams 1 solar power plant, built at a total cost of USD 600 million, covers an area of 2.5 square kilometers in the Western Region. It adds 100 megawatts of sustainable, renewable electricity to the national grid, which otherwise consumes fossil fuels, and provides enough energy to power nearly 20,000 houses.

IRENA also welcomed the launch of the largest solar photovoltaic plant in Africa, which was inaugurated by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania in collaboration with Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) last April. It lauded the launch of other projects executed by Masdar such as the Gemasolar Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) project in Spain; the London Matrix for sea-wind power in the UK; and the Port Victoria Wind Farm in the Republic of Seychelles as well as the off-grid solar photovoltaic power project in Afghanistan.

Collaborating with relevant bodies and organizations, IRENA signed a memorandum of understanding with the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA). The MoU aims to enhance sustainable development in Dubai, as per the directives and vision of His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and the long term initiative launched by His Highness under the slogan “Green Economy for Sustainable Development.” This initiative aims to establish a framework and facilitate cooperation between DEWA and IRENA. It also supports and enhances the use of renewable energy, as well as the development processes and implementation of the appropriate policies and regulations through joint activities that serve the interests of both parties.

Last year, Masdar awarded the design and construction contract for its new headquarters complex, which will also house IRENA’s offices.

The headquarters will be one of the most advanced, sustainable multi-use complexes in the country, and the cornerstone of Masdar City. The new headquarters will integrate cutting-edge technologies in energy efficiency, green buildings, and water conservation. The completion date is set for the summer of 2014.

Moreover, IRENA and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, in cooperation with their supporting partners, announced the official commercial launch of the “UAE Solar Atlas.” On 25 January 2012, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and IRENA signed a memorandum of understanding in Abu Dhabi to support the development of a publicly-accessible atlas of solar and wind resources.

IRENA also hosted high level consultations to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy in Africa.

A total of 45 African countries participated in the meeting, including nearly 30 ministers and assistant ministers. High level representatives from the African Union and non-African delegates confirmed their participation, including representatives of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), India, China, Germany, France, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates.

The ministerial meeting called for kick-starting an ambitious process that includes the development of scenarios and strategies for Africa and launching a continent-wide initiative to prepare African economies to address the current constraints facing the deployment of renewable energy.

The leaders of Pacific nations held a meeting in Abu Dhabi, organized by IRENA. A general statement was issued at the end of the meeting, confirming the agency’s proposed activities to accelerate renewable energy deployment in this vital region, which is currently heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

The meeting was attended by leaders of six Pacific countries and IRENA member states in the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalo, and Vanuatu. It covered IRENA’s proposed role in accelerating deployment, as well as opportunities for collaboration with other stakeholders and development partners.

The meeting also provided guidance on IRENA’s new proposals, ensuring their compliance with Pacific leaders’ policy goals and priorities.

In their statement, the leaders welcomed IRENA’s activities and agreed to work with the agency to map renewable energy readiness in the region’s countries and territories in an effort to measure opportunities for implementation and identify pathways to close any gaps.

In early June, IRENA took part in the launch of the Renewable Energy Club, which took place during the meeting held in Berlin, Germany on the occasion of the World Environment Day.

The club is a high-level political alliance aiming to promote renewable energy with a view to scale-up renewable energy deployment as it is an essential element of a sustainable and more prosperous future.

IRENA convened a major international strategy session on 22 and 23 June to discuss the prospects for a Clean Energy Corridor (CEC) to serve the rapidly growing power demand across East and Southern Africa. The Africa CEC brings together more than 20 countries in a coordinated effort to build the foundation for a substantial shift to renewable energy technologies for power generation.

The UAE, being the host country of a significant organization of important stature such as IRENA, has become a major partner in establishing the world’s renewable energy agenda. This enhances the positive, constructive, and effective role of the UAE’s diplomacy.

The UAE’s important role is underscored during IRENA’s General Assembly meeting, which is held in conjunction with the conferences and events of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. In January of every year, Abu Dhabi becomes the global capital of renewable energy hosting a significant number of country leaders, major experts, and officials to discuss ways to ensure the security of energy and water and to build a future based on the principles of sustainable development.

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