Solar seen key to Gulf's renewables effort

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Promoting solar energy in the Gulf, which has one of the world’s biggest carbon footprints, will be a priority for the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), its new interim director-general said.

Securing Saudi Arabia’s participation in the intergovernmental organization will also be a major target, IRENA’s Adnan Amin told Reuters in an interview on Monday, adding that he hoped the world’s largest crude oil exporter would become a signatory by next April.

“For the fact that it’s an oil-producing region, they (Gulf countries) fully acknowledge that they have a very heavy carbon footprint. The issue is how they address reducing the footprint,” he said.

“There seems to be clear political acceptance that this needs to be happening pretty soon.”

Gulf Arab oil-exporting countries are among the highest per capita carbon dioxide emitters in the world, according to figures from the World Resources Institute. Qatar tops the list, followed by the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

So far, those three countries and fifth-ranking Bahrain are IRENA signatories.

“Wind (energy) has huge potential, but the key renewable energy for the region is solar,” Amin said.

IRENA, based in Abu Dhabi, was established in January 2009 to promote the development of the renewable energy industry worldwide.

Currently it is in a preparatory phase with 42 ratifications and 149 signatories received so far. It will hold its first assembly in April 2011.

A provisional budget of $23.9 million was agreed for 2011, with a core budget of $13.3 million funded by voluntary contributors and the remainder made up by additional voluntary contributions from the UAE, Germany and Austria.

“The next four to five months are crucial for IRENA to become a full-fledged organization. There will be mandatory contributions after the first assembly in April 2011,” Amin said.

Amin, a Kenyan citizen and a former United Nations Environment Program official, was appointed as IRENA’s interim director-general as of November 1 until the organization’s first assembly in April 2011.

The organization will set up an office in Bonn, focusing on innovation and a liaison office in Vienna to deal with other energy agencies.

Editing by Jane Baird