Nobel laureate backs Abu Dhabi bid ahead of vote on green HQ

Cities make their final pitches as 114 nations prepare to decide.

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ABU DHABI // The Nobel laureate, Rajendra Pachauri, has extended his support to Abu Dhabi's campaign to house the world's first renewable energy agency. The chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declares his support in a column in The National today, a day ahead of the summit in Sharm el Sheikh where the final three competing offers will be reviewed.

Besides Abu Dhabi, Vienna and Bonn are competing to host the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). The UAE proposes that Irena be set up free of charge in Masdar City, the world's first large-scale carbon-neutral development, on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. "If there is a better embodiment of Irena's vision, I have yet to see it," wrote Dr Pachauri, commenting on the proposed location. Irena was formed in January to speed up the adoption of renewable energy and improve green energy financing and technology transfer.

The decision on siting the headquarters will be made by delegates from all of Irena's 114 member states at a special session tomorrow. Abu Dhabi and Bonn have emerged as the two strongest candidates and both have been lobbying intensely. The German government is relying on its experience in hosting other international bodies and on its position as a leader in green energy. It has also been the main driving force behind the formation of Irena. "I am very often told, in many talks, that Germany's experience and success in expanding renewable energies and our international commitment are highly valued," said a spokesman for the German environment ministry.

"We are proving that renewable energies are not just a nice idea, but really can secure the power supply of an industrialised country." Last week Bonn's position was strengthened when Denmark, which had offered to host Irena in its capital Copenhagen, withdrew from the race. Austria's lobbying efforts also appear to have been scaled down. The UAE, on the other hand, has been insisting it is time for global agencies to look beyond the traditional centres of power in the industrialised world.

Officials have also argued that the country is better positioned to engage developing nations, whose energy demand is expected to soar with future economic growth. Dr Pachauri expressed a similar opinion: "Instead of adding yet another international body to cities already laced with them, maybe it is time to take a leap forward in European-Arab relations and select the Middle East as Irena's home.

"For an international agency that represents countries from both the developed and developing world - and requires deep commitment and participation - this is the opportunity to build a bridge between these countries in the pursuit of a renewable future." A similar opinion has also been expressed by the government of Australia, which is among the countries supporting the UAE bid. "We are actively supporting their bid, by helping them with lobbying efforts, particularly in parts of the world where we have diplomatic representation and the UAE does not," said Jeremy Bruer, the Australian ambassador to the UAE.

"With respect to climate change, that is particularly relevant because Australia believes that there can't be a solution to climate change without active contribution from the developing world. "Also, as a major hydrocarbon producer it is acting as an excellent model to show people that there are different ways of doing things." Non-Arab countries such as Italy, the Dominican Republic, Armenia, Kenya and Switzerland have been reported as either backing or speaking favourably of Abu Dhabi's bid.

The former British prime minister, Tony Blair, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the League of Arab States, have also encouraged the UAE capital. On Saturday, Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Government's sustainability initiative, announced a new partnership with Germany's Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft institute, one of the world's leading research organisations, to develop a Sustainable Cities Research Centre.

Set to open in November this year, the centre will be situated within Masdar City. The new organisation will start with a team of 25 working on projects in the fields of energy efficiency, solar cooling and smart grids. The jointly funded project will eventually grow to cover research areas such as solar energy, sustainable water desalination and cooling methods, electric vehicles and carbon footprint measurement and evaluation.

Masdar's chief executive, Dr Sultan al Jaber, admitted that the announcement came at an auspicious time for the UAE team. "The timing is very much in line with our efforts to host Irena in Abu Dhabi," he said. Being able to attract such a reputable organisation "tells you that Abu Dhabi has a strong and compelling case to host Irena". Abu Dhabi's proposal includes hosting the headquarters in 6,436 square metres of office space, free of charge as well as Dh500 million (US$135m) of in-kind and cash support to help the agency in its incubation period until 2015.

This is in addition to an annual $50m from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, which would support Irena-endorsed projects in developing nations over seven years, and 20 full scholarships for Irena-recommended students at Masdar Institute, which has been developed in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.