By Jeff Roberts
Locating Irena headquarters in the UAE leaves several questions and a contradiction or two, says Jeff Roberts.
Unless you've been living in a cave for the past few weeks, you will have undoubtedly heard that the UAE has been awarded the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). While the mere creation of the global agency makes a tremendous statement about the future of renewable energy on a world level, locating its HQ in the UAE leaves several questions and, dare I say it, a contradiction or two.
First, the positives. Once complete, IRENA will become the world's only international agency to be headquartered in a developing country. That makes sense socially, politically and economically. It sends a clear message that the global community is taking steps to alleviate the disparity between the developed and developing worlds. Score one for IRENA.
Second, GCC countries are used to making global statements when it comes to energy. Bahrain's World Trade Center is the world's first building to incorporate wind turbines into its design and architect Atkins is currently working on the second for the UAE. Abu Dhabi's Masdar City-the proposed home of IRENA-will eventually be the world's first carbon neutral city. Qatar boasts the world's largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) train. Dubai was the world's first city to require by law a level of green-ness in every new building. And, KSA's 214 billion barrels is the world's largest proven reserve of oil. Energy-related ‘world firsts' are a dime a dozen in this part of the world. 2-0 to IRENA.
Third, the Gulf's fledgling industries for all those architecture-related renewable sources of energy-i.e. wind turbines, recycled concrete, PV panels, tidal/hydro/wave power and biomass/biofuel-are poised to witness a substantial growth spurt over the next 12-18 months. IRENA: 3-0!
But before we all jump on board and start feeding our vehicles dandelions and banana peels, there are some glaring issues to consider. Namely, the fact that GCC countries occupy four of the top five spots in the WWF's list of countries with the highest per capita energy consumption.
Make no mistake, being awarded the IRENA headquarters is a prize. It comes with massive publicity, enormous potential for outside investment and the support of each of the 135 other member states. I'm not sure the global community should be rewarding a region that can't seem to create a uniform recycling programme, let alone put its own environmental house in order. I'll take that one. IRENA, 3: Voice of Reason, 1.
According to several accounts of the vote, Bonn and Vienna took their bids off the table after Abu Dhabi made an offer no one could match and the agency couldn't refuse. Apparently Abu Dhabi pledged US$ 550 million, annual loans of US$ 50 million to developing countries, an ‘innovation centre' in Bonn and liaison office in Vienna. Please tell me that the future location for the HQ of potentially the world's most influential international agency didn't come down to a game of Texas Hold ‘Em with only one player courageous enough to go ‘all-in'. If so, that's 3-2.
One more thing: the world's third largest exporter of crude oil is all of a sudden going to shift its focus to renewable-i.e. new and not terribly profitable-energy when billions of barrels of the traditional stuff still exist? You decide who won.
Jeff Roberts is the group editor of ITP Business' design tiles magazines.