There’s a new kid in energy town - The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) had its first Assembly in Abu Dhabi this week. When you think of Abu Dhabi you probably think of oil. But this week, the talk of Abu Dhabi was all about the sun, the waves and the wind.
Ministers and officials from around the world braved the scorching heat and welcomed this “historical moment” of establishing an international agency that is, they hope, ready to become “one of the most important agencies in the world”. We need an “energy revolution”, said – no, not Greenpeace, but representatives from Poland, the US, and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, among others. And as the world watches the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan as it continues to spiral out of control, a message of hope came from Abu Dhabi.
Many governments underlined that the timing for setting up a body dedicated to clean, renewable energy could not be better. “Fukushima”, “oil price increase” and “huge energy challenges” were frequently mentioned as key factors to speed up the spread of renewable energies “which we all here know is the only solution that can answer to all challenges”.
As an observer I could not be anything but delighted to hear that the Greenpeace call for an energy revolution has been widely adopted by governments. Even better: In many countries it is not only the rhetoric that has changed on renewables but also the policies. In 2010, there were more than 100 countries with a policy target and/or support mechanism for renewable energy, up from 55 in early 2005. Countries were proud to present these policies at IRENA.
Alas, as I was listening to the speeches, I could not help but think about the fact that in the real world, business as usual continues – sometimes just under a new name. Today, for example, some ministers will stick around for something called the “Clean Energy Ministerial” – an exclusive club of the world’s largest economies, accounting for more than 80 percent of global energy consumption. While the title sounds fabulous, the meeting will hardly be about launching an energy revolution. Rather, likely drag their feet and discuss modest cooperation. No surprise, really, as the leader of this Ministerial is the United States, which is still selling “clean coal”, nuclear, and other dangerous, dirty, disastrous, and out-of-date solutions as… wait for it… “clean energy.” Eek.
I witnessed over the last couple of days a lot of bold words to welcome the establishment of IRENA. What difference this body will make, is not yet clear, though. the expectations vary widely, and governments haven’t exactly yet put their money where their mouths are. Just as a comparison: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that you will have heard about in the wake of Fukushima has a core annual budget of $ 449 million (US). The core budget of IRENA adopted today is… $(US) 13 million.
We are hoping for a strong intergovernmental advocacy body for renewable energies. What we don’t need is another talking shop that only repeats activities taking place elsewhere, or establishes a bloated bureaucracy to share peanuts.
We are at a crossroads. As the Swedish energy minister Maud Olofsson put it: “The terrible nuclear accident in Fukushima also puts focus on our future choice of energy production. Where will the investments in future energy sources go?”
Renewables are ready. They can deliver. As I get ready to leave Abu Dhabi, I can only but hope that governments will not just talk about the energy [r]evolution, but start leading it. Only then, will the ray of hope from Abu Dhabi endure.
“Each time there’s a fuel price increase people are burning my pictures on the streets. This is why I’m here.” -Jose Almendras, Energy Secretary, Philippines
Kaisa Kosonen is a Climate Policy Advisor at Greenpeace International.