The International Renewable Energy Agency: a success story in institutional innovation?

  • Johannes Urpelainen
  • Thijs Van de Graaf
Original Paper


This article interprets the role and significance of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in global environmental and energy governance. First, we conduct a comparative analysis of IRENA and other recent innovations in global governance, showing that IRENA stands out with regard to the timing of creation, speed of ratification, and focus of the mandate. Second, we identify three mechanisms through which IRENA can promote the global diffusion of renewable energy: (1) by offering valuable epistemic services to its member states, (2) by serving as a focal point for renewable energy in a scattered global institutional environment, and (3) by mobilizing other international institutions to promote renewable energy. Finally, we reflect on the conditions that could make IRENA’s policies a continued success and on the lessons that the experience with IRENA holds for other attempts at innovation in global governance.


Global energy governance IRENA Renewable energy Institutional innovation 



International Renewable Energy Agency


United States dollar


Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries


United Nations


Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century


United Nations Environment Programme


International Energy Agency


European Union


Carbon capture and storage


European Patent Office


Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development


Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Program


Global Bioenergy Partnership


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations


United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


Johannesburg Renewable Energy Coalition



We are grateful to Frank Biermann, Jeff Colgan, Sander Happaerts, Timothy Meyer, and Sarah Van Eynde for commenting on earlier drafts. We also thank the editors of International Environmental Agreements and the anonymous reviewers for their advice. All interviewees are commended for their openness and contribution.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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