The Copenhagen global climate talks, branded a failure by many participants and experts, were a success in driving the development of renewable energy, says the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Helene Pelosse, the director general of IRENA, offered a bright forecast on the role renewable energy will play in displacing oil and other fossil fuels in the next four decades.
The agency will hold the first general meeting of its 139 member states on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, where it is based. Delegates will vote on a budget and decide what projects will take priority in the coming year. World leaders last month were criticised for their inability to agree on firm targets for cutting carbon emissions, but Ms Pelosse welcomed a pledge to make US$100 billion (Dh367bn) available annually to help developing countries deploy clean energy and adapt to climate change. The agreement was a big step towards achieving a target of $120bn annually put forward by experts, she said.
"We didn't get a complete agreement in Copenhagen, but we got an agreement on something very important, namely the financial agreement," she said. "The figure, you remember, was $100 billion - so if we continue to pick that up, we're going to get there." Rising costs for fossil fuels and falling prices for renewables would boost investments in clean energy, even without an agreement on reducing emissions, she predicted, citing scenarios in which renewables make up 50 per cent of primary energy consumption in 2050, up from 18 per cent today. Primary energy consumption includes electricity and the use of energy for heat and transport.
"You don't have an agreement on everything in Copenhagen, [but] member states are going to continue to invest in renewable energy," she said. "Forty years from now, there might be almost no oil, but 40 years from now we might have 50 per cent renewables." Solar energy systems are still more expensive than power stations burning fossil fuels, but Ms Pelosse predicted that technological breakthroughs in the manufacture of solar arrays could one day reduce their cost to the level of cheap electronic items such as mobile phones.
The price of oil will continue to increase, she said, and the world's poorest countries will soon find it unaffordable to derive their energy from fossil fuels. "Tell me a nation in the world that doesn't have either wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, rivers or an ocean," she said. "There is no country that doesn't have any of these, but there are many countries that do not have oil, and there are many countries that will never have nuclear energy."
IRENA, Ms Pelosse said, could help accelerate the growth of clean energy worldwide by helping governments create regulations to support the higher cost of renewables. "IRENA is a centre of knowledge. It's going to be like a brain, bringing in experts and picking up data," she said. "We are not going to be financing plants; that's not our role." At Sunday's meeting at the Emirates Palace, delegates will vote on IRENA's $15 million operating budget and also decide on how to disburse $50m in loans to clean projects in developing countries that was provided by the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development.
Ms Pelosse said the group will also accept a number of new members, and hinted that China, the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide, could be among them. "I don't believe China has no interest in renewable energy; I believe exactly the opposite," she said. "China is going to attend the 2010 preparatory commission - they might be interested, you know, so they're going to be in Abu Dhabi next Sunday."