50-Plus Nations Launch World’s First International Renewable Energy Agency

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The first-ever global renewable energy organization — the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA — was launched today in Bonn, Germany. Over 50 nations are expected to sign the founding treaty.

If members get their way, IRENA will evolve into the world’s "new mouthpiece for renewable energies" and be the driving force to advance clean energy adoption. Here’s how, in the agency’s words:

IRENA will provide practical advice and support for both industrialised and developing countries, help them improve their regulatory frameworks and build capacity. The agency will facilitate access to all relevant information including reliable data on the potential of renewable energy, best practices, effective financial mechanisms and state-of-the-art technological expertise.

Maybe it will knock the International Energy Agency (IEA) off its perch as the world’s top energy forecaster while it’s at it. At least that’s the hope of some IRENA founders.

You may recall that the 28-member, Paris-based IEA has been bashed as of late for underestimating the potential of clean energy sources. Critics contend that the misleading data it has supplied to policymakers is a result of the IEA’s long-held ties to Big Oil — ties that have obstructed the switch to a renewable world.

Here’s Denmark’s Hans Jorgen Koch, deputy secretary in the ministry of energy and climate change, on the matter:

"For ten years the IEA has underestimated the competitiveness of renewable energy sources…Only OECD countries can be members, and only two per cent of its budget is given over to renewables — so there is a clear need for IRENA."

IRENA, 18 months in the making, was the brain child of the German government. Denmark and Spain were vital initial participants. Today, the list of founding members includes France, Holland, Norway, Poland, India, Thailand, The United Arab Emirates and dozens of others. (The list of participating countries as of October 2008 is available from IRENA here, PDF.)

Maybe more significant is who didn’t join.

The US and China — the fastest growing cleantech markets in the world and the two dirtiest climate polluters — said no. Japan and Great Britain also snubbed their invites.

Britain is said to be trying to avoid ruffling feathers at the IEA — an organization that it helped to establish in the 1970s and that views IRENA with great suspicion. Japan, meanwhile, holds the seat of IEA executive director right now, and has said:

"The IEA has been making efforts to expand the use of renewable energy, so a new organization isn’t necessary."

In the absence of certain major governments willing to join, questions will surely remain over IRENA’s potential to influence the whole world’s energy future. The game changer would be America. Interestingly, Deutsche-Welle reports today that the US is "widely expected to [join IRENA] under President Barack Obama."

In the meantime, the organization wants as large a membership as possible to ensure that the renewables sector has a powerful and clear voice at December’s UN climate change negotiations in Copenhagen. At least one industry leader, thin-film darling First Solar, is in full support of the effort:

"The creation of IRENA sends a clear signal to markets worldwide that renewable energy will be a public policy priority for many years to come and shows that policy makers are serious about fighting global warming."

"We expect IRENA to become a powerful force in identifying and promoting best practices and thereby help governments and private investors optimize their investments in renewable energies."

Only time will tell how successfully the organization manages to unite its members and promote clean energy on a global scale. But the broader point remains: IRENA’s establishment marks yet another first in the rapidly changing world of renewable energy, which is seemingly on track to transform the whole energy economy for the better.


(Hat Tip: The Vine)