The world took a step forward in its efforts to fight climate change with the Jan. 26 inauguration of the International Renewable Energy Agency in Bonn, Germany. Member states hope that IRENA, the first global organization dedicated to renewable energy, will become the world’s “new mouthpiece for renewable energies” and be a leading force in the advancement and adoption of clean energy.

The agency says it will “provide practical advice and support for both industrialized and developing countries, help them improve their regulatory frameworks and build capacity.” It also says it “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 technologies.”

More than 50 states are committed to full membership, including Germany, Denmark, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Thailand and India. But equally significant is the list of countries that have yet to join. Their ranks include the world’s two worst polluters, the United States and China, as well as Britain and Japan.

Britain reportedly doesn’t want to “ruffle feathers” at the International Energy Agency, which it helped to establish in the 1970s. The IEA says its mission is to advise its 28 members “in their efforts to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for their citizens.”

Japan currently holds the seat of IEA director and has stated that “The IEA has been making efforts to expand the use of renewable energy, so a new organization isn’t necessary.” The government is also said to be reluctant to join because doing so would entail costly contributions.

Opinions in the government are divided, however. Supporters of the new agency say that membership would “contribute to the proliferation of Japanese technologies, such as solar power generation.” They also note that IRENA will have a far larger and more diverse membership than the IEA, whose members are mostly industrialized nations.

In the end, Japan did decide to attend the Bonn meeting as an observer, but only after the U.S. had indicated that it would do so. This is regrettable. Compelling arguments can be made for both joining IRENA or remaining outside the organization. Rather than blindly following Washington’s lead, the government should hold thorough discussions on the issue and make its own decision based on sound reasoning and broad national interests.

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