China on board for Irena

China has decided to join the International Renewable Agency (IRENA), leaving only a handful of major countries on the sidelines four years after the group’s founding.

Beijing’s sign-off represents a “major step toward universal membership for the agency”, Irena says, lifting the number of participating countries to 160.

Only a handful of large economies, including Canada, Russia and Brazil, have not yet signed on or indicated their future support. The US did not ratify its own membership until 2011.

But all the remaining non-participants pale in comparison to China in terms of their gravitas within the global renewables sector. In addition to being the home of many of the world’s largest solar and wind manufacturers, China boasts 249GW of installed hydro capacity, 63GW of wind and 7GW of PV – the latter a tenfold increase in the past two years.

The announcement was made during Irena’s third annual assembly in Abu Dhabi, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which this week formally ratified its headquarters agreement with Irena.

Irena also used the assembly to launch its long-awaited open-access global renewables atlas, which depicts the solar and wind resource in more than three dozen countries.

The atlas – which will expand to include new geographies and technologies in the coming years – is intended to raise awareness of the world’s renewables potential and help companies looking to invest in new markets.

Irena’s path to maturity has at times been rocky, dating back to Abu Dhabi’s controversial 2009 victory over rival bidder Germany to host the group’s headquarters.

Abu Dhabi’s win was seen by some as an important way – both practically and symbolically – to pushing renewable energy in a region in which each person emits an extraordinarily high level of carbon emissions. Others, however, saw it as a means to future exercises in greenwash, and suggested the location may make it difficult to retain top talent.