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[CAIRO] The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) will have its headquarters in Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), making it the first major international agency to be based in the Middle East.

Masdar City, near the outskirts of UAE's capital Abu Dhabi, is planned to be the world's first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city, completely powered by renewable energy.

IRENA was founded in January and will promote the transition to renewable energy across the globe by providing advice and support to countries seeking to build their capacity in renewable energy (see New agency to be global 'voice of renewables'). One of its main activities will be providing data on the potential of renewable energy sources.

The UAE beat off competition from Austria, Denmark and Germany to host IRENA, thanks to its ability to link the developed and the developing worlds, according to those behind the bid.

"It shows that the whole world must unite on international issues," Thani Al-Zeyoudi, IRENA project representative in Masdar, told SciDev.Net. "It is a message that developing countries must play an important role in international events. And having it in one of the biggest oil-producing countries shows that even they are interested in renewable energy."

"There will be no fossil-fuel use at all throughout the city," adds Al-Zeyoudi. "That's why having IRENA here makes sense."

Maged Karam, an engineer at the New and Renewable Energy Authority in Egypt, believes that basing IRENA in the UAE will promote renewable energy in the region. "We currently have many new projects under construction in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and the UAE," he says.

The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development has already pledged US$50 million for clean energy projects in developing countries. "By 2010, IRENA will be responsible for determining which projects get the funding," says Al-Zeyoudi.

Construction in Masdar City started in early 2008 and by completion in 2016 it is expected to house more than 1,500 international organisations. IRENA's headquarters will be one of the first buildings finished with staff due to move in by 2011. Until then, IRENA will operate from other offices in Masdar City.