France is trying to co-opt the new International Renewable Energy Agency to make it support nuclear power.

From Terry Macalister
Tuesday 30 June 2009 by anik

The nuclear power industry has been accused of trying to muscle in on plans to establish a global body to represent the renewable energy industry at a key meeting in Egypt tomorrow.

France – a major user and exporter of nuclear technologies – is accused by critics of trying to win the top job inside the renewable organisation so it can move the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) towards being a promoter of "low-carbon" technologies – including atomic power.

The talks in Sharm el-Sheikh are already threatening to become a major standoff between Germany and the United Arab Emirates over which country should win the right to have the headquarters of Irena based in its country.

France, which recently signed a nuclear co-operation agreement with the UAE, is supporting Abu Dhabi. It also wants one of its own civil servants, Hélène Peloss, to be given the top role.

Britain, which only signed up for membership on Friday, has given no indication whether it plans to cast its vote in favour of Bonn or Abu Dhabi, while the US is expected to join Irena in Egypt and then lend its support to Germany.

Karsten Sach, an official in the German environment ministry with responsibility for Irena, said he was "very optimistic" that his country would be chosen but he refused to be drawn on the competition with Abu Dhabi or the role of France.

"I think we have an excellent offer in terms of experience, policy frameworks and vibrant research but we are not campaigning against any other offer," he argued.

Bonn is considered by many to be the more obvious location because the renewables agency was the brainchild of the Germans, who have led the way in the clean technology sector through its determined championing of solar power. The promoters of Bonn are also suggesting that the Danish renewables policy expert Hans Jørgen Koch should be chosen as director general.

But Abu Dhabi, in the UAE, is pushing its claims to host Irena by emphasising its new commitment to clean technology through the construction of the hugely ambitious, low-carbon Masdar City project. It is also arguing that a developing country rather than the west is better placed to pursue the vital north-south dialogue needed to beat global warming.

At previous planning meetings for Irena, the French have talked about "low-carbon" technologies, encouraging speculation about its ultimate motives.

Eric Martinot, a senior research director with the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies in Tokyo, and a former environment specialist at the World Bank, told the Huffington Post, an online newspaper, that the French manoeuvres should be resisted.

"An Irena located in Abu Dhabi under such circumstances would be ’nuclear tainted’ because the negotiating process used to select a host country would be based on support for nuclear power," said Martinot.

"Are the original goals of Irena being co-opted so that renewables become a mere appendage to a nuclear agenda? ’Sprinkling some renewables on top of our nuclear power’?" he asked.

More than 100 countries have signed up to the new organisation, although the US and China have yet to do so. Sach said he was hopeful that the US might join in Egypt and that China would eventually come on board.

The renewable agency will have a mandate to disseminate knowledge, develop regulatory framework and to actively promote the widespread adoption of renewable energy technologies around the world.

It comes ahead of vital new talks in Copenhagen at the end of this year about how to tackle global warming and amid excitement that the US and China are finally starting to play more constructive roles compared with the past.

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