New Irena chief pledges aid for neediest countries

Aid to the world¿s poorest countries will become one of the main priorities of the International Renewable Energy Agency, the group¿s new interim director general says.

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ABU DHABI // Aid to the world's poorest countries will become one of the main priorities of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), the group's new interim director general said yesterday.

Adnan Amin, a development economist from Kenya, replaced Helene Pelosse, who resigned unexpectedly last week. Mr Amin, who has extensive experience in the international arena, was Ms Pelosse's deputy.

The temporary appointment was announced yesterday at the end of a two-day meeting in Abu Dhabi and comes at a crucial time for Irena.

The green agency's progress has been delayed by the slow pace at which member states have ratified its treaty, so far only 42 out of 148, and by inadequate financial contributions that left the group with an US$8.4 million (Dh30.8m) cash shortfall as of this month.

Mr Amin said the continuing poor economic climate had affected contributions. "We are coming through a very serious economic recession … it is to be expected that countries will be somehow constrained," he said.

The same opinion was expressed by the Ambassador Rafael Conde de Saro, from the Spanish ministry of foreign affairs, who was chairing the Irena Preparatory Commission.

"Strict budgetary limitations do not permit as much largesse as one would like," he said. "Multilateral organisations always have cash shortages when they tend to depend on voluntary contributions."

The meeting also reached agreement on next year's budget and set April 4 as the date for formal assembly. That is when Irena will become a full-fledged organisation demanding "mandatory" financial donations from its members, Mr de Saro said.

"We have managed to solve a lot of pending issues that will greatly facilitate the coming of age of Irena," he said.

All member states have agreed to an audit of the group's finances and a provisional budget of $23.9 million for 2011. The agency would have adequate funding to carry on its mission until then, despite the current funding shortfall, said Mr Amin. "I am confident we will be able to deal with this situation," Mr Amin said.

Irena and the UAE also signed a formal agreement on the relationship between the organisation and its host country. The document, Mr de Saro said, gives the "legal structure under which Irena will function".

As Mr Amin's appointment until April was confirmed, he spoke of the strains faced by countries who lacked funding to build modern energy infrastructure. Clean power generation was a solution in such cases, he said.

In some of the world's poorest countries, such as Bangladesh, for example, small-scale solar generation is the only source of power for families in remote rural areas, not connected to the country's main electricity grid.

The meeting also settled on a procedure to select clean energy projects that will be funded by the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, which will dedicate $50 million per year to finance projects in developing countries.

Other member countries have also expressed interest in providing funding, Mr Amin said.

"We need to develop clear criteria for submission of projects," he said. "I want to start getting proposals as quickly as possible."
Irena was formed on January 26 last year with the objective of speeding up the adoption of renewable energy by advising member states on the right policy frameworks and improving green energy financing and technology transfer.

Worldwide, renewable energy accounts for 18 per cent of electricity generation, experts estimate.

Abu Dhabi won the right to host the agency in a race against three European cities: Copenhagen in Denmark, Vienna in Austria and Bonn in Germany, the main competitor.

Besides hosting Irena free of charge in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi's offer also includes 20 full scholarships for Irena-recommended students at Masdar Institute, which has been developed in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

There was also a provision for US$135million (Dh495m) in in-kind and cash donations to support the agency in its incubation period until 2015.

Mr Amin thanked the UAE yesterday for its "extraordinary generosity".