The International Solar Alliance (ISA) was launched at the climate summit in 2015 by leaders of France and India, ISA has the goal of contributing to SDG 7 by mobilising US$1000 billion of resources to invest in solar energy by 2030, inter alia through reducing the cost of finance and improving access to technology in the sun rich countries between the equinoxes (some 121 countries), in other words a southern focused effort led by the south. About 50 countries have ratified the framework agreement that is registered with the UN as an international treaty and established national focal points to work with the secretariat, which has convened two sessions with about 33 participants, inter alia to develop national solar roadmaps. A major outreach effort is underway led by India and France to reach 100 members before the next assembly in October 2019
The secretariat is established at the National Institute for Solar Energy of India near New Delhi, with a foundation ceremony a year ago and a first Assembly meeting in October 2018 that confirmed the interim director-general as the first DG (from India). India is funding the secretariat and elaboration of programmes for the first five years, with interim arrangements in place from 2016 to initiate activities.
The Assembly has authorised eight standing committees and with the recent election of vice-presidents of the Assembly and most chairs and co-chairs, these are now expected to become active. The secretariat is supporting a series of global task forces to engage with the corporate sector, foundations, think tanks, chambers of commerce and industry, and in promoting innovation and risk mitigation/financing. Five major programmes are active with voluntary participation by members and two cross-cutting projects.
The ISA has adopted interim regulations that follow UN standards and operationally has learnt from IRENA and especially UNDP. Early in its work the interim secretariat established declarations of cooperation with several organisations, including IRENA, World Bank, ADB, UNEP, ILO and UNDP. A panel of experts was financed by UNDP to guide the development of programmes and a work-plan for the first five years, while World Bank has engaged on establishing innovative risk reduction financing mechanisms for solar industry (in West Africa, to be launched soon). Seconded staff from France, Australia, World Bank and ADB have supported the small secretariat, which will launch a major recruitment exercise in 2019 to fill some 30 posts authorised by the Assembly.
The five main issues presented by ISA for discussion with the mission may be summarised as follows:
- Relationship with the UN: ISA leadership desires eventually to be a part of the UN system as a related agency. It is perhaps too early to negotiate, given that ISA’s original membership is still in flux and that at the first Assembly a decision was made to expand the membership from 121 tropical solar rich countries to all members of the UN. This major change after one year is now in the process of ratification by current members. More immediate ways to associate ISA with the UN system is to become a partner of UN Energy and to promote its work also in the context of UN Energy for All as part of the SDG campaign. It has established links already to IRENA and IEA. The strategic partnership with the UN can be developed also through UNSDG, and this mission may stimulate that relationship. Is it feasible for example to envisage an overarching MOU for country and regional level collaboration with UNSDG? This approach would appear to support current UN reform efforts at integration and provide an opportunity for all UN agencies to look at the relevance of solar energy to their work programmes, under which groups or individual agencies could establish their direct links around agreed areas of support (for example several agencies collaborate in PAGE).
- Financing ISAs global mandate is a primary concern. While it is envisaged that ISA support mobilisation of global resources for the US$1000 billion solar investment target, rather than manage those resources or implement major projects, there is the related target of resourcing US$1000 million as a capital or corpus fund to generate revenues to fund the secretariat and programmes that it does implement. Interim financing to 2021 is available from India, several corporate sponsors from India made contributions, and a few cost-sharing contributions have been received (from World Bank and EU) for specific programme activities, but overall the feasibility of this approach to sustainability needs detailed scrutiny and development of a strategy. Business model options need to be developed along with scenarios for the size and functions of the secretariat related to likely funding streams. In the short-term it will be important to avoid an impression of over dependence on India and move to a global engagement. Related to this question is the membership issue. As a south based initiative no membership fee was sought but opening membership to all members of the UN should reopen the question of how to sustain the focus on solar rich countries (121 countries) as the core value added of ISA while recognising the importance also of being inclusive in respect of major sources of financing, innovation, investment and industrial experience in solar energy. There are also developing countries outside the tropics that would benefit from membership (e.g. Nepal). A study of different membership structures and financing options might be useful at this point (see IFAD for example).
- Programme development: with varying levels of participation five programmes are being developed, (scaling solar water pump applications for agriculture use by aggregating demand and supply, scaling solar mini-grids, scaling solar roof tops, scaling solar e-mobility, and affordable finance at scale). A fifth, on scaling solar lighting, is being considered. Although there are national focal points at member country level with an associated task force, in practice ISA has limited outreach and would like to access UN networks in supporting its capacity at the country level. Three projects are being developed (STAR-C: solar training application and research centres, at global, regional and country levels), specific training activities for technicians and mid-career professionals organised in India at ISA, and INFOPEDIA (an online platform for networking amongst members and a repository of information).
- Capacity and structure of the secretariat: guidance is also needed on how best to structure the secretariat as expressed in an organigramme and the main tasks of key personnel, to ensure coverage of the main policy and functional areas of ISA mandate. This work should be considered in the context of establishing a foresight model and a theory of change for solar energy and ISA’s role, given especially the rapid changes taking place in the energy sector, in technology and financing. It is also unclear at this point how far ISA has embraced the SDG concept of leave no one behind and gender mainstreaming in its programming and policy work, which may be more technology and investment focused. Another important feature of how ISA performs is the capacity and relationship with national focal points, and strong support is requested from UN to support this country level leadership capacity.
- Manual of regulations: the intention of ISA is to adopt a UN derived manual of regulations and related processes for financial, administrative and human resource matters. The Assembly has approved this approach and a preliminary version of the regulations. A final version and related procedures need to be reviewed by the standing committee on 18 April, and for this reason the mission focused on finalising these documents with the secretariat. Although several staff have been recruited on an interim basis from UNDP India retirees, it is necessary to provide guidance and support in relation to a number of systemic considerations that will impact how this approach will be implemented, including an appropriate accountability framework, a risk register, audit tracking, using a POPPS type platform for processes(SOPs), and at some future point an ERP. Procurement is another issue, both for substantive programmes and for recruitment of the core of secretariat permanent staff by end of 2019.
The UN Interagency Technical Support to the International Solar Alliance (ISA)
The UN inter-agency mission to ISA undertook a two-week mission to ISA to review the need to establish cooperation with the UN as a strategic partner and develop concrete proposals for cooperation that can be further elaborated during the second home-based phase of the mission in April, culminating in a wrap up session in early May at ISA.
This mission is the result of discussions to take forward that objective, starting in April 2018 with the UNRC, and more recently in February between the DG of ISA and the Regional Director of UNDP, also convenor of the UNSDG in the region, and more recently with the Administrator of UNDP and vice-chair of UNSDG. Participation was secured from UNDP Headquarters (finance and operations) and UNDP Bangkok (climate change/energy) as well as from UNDP New Delhi (both programme and operations). UNIDO (Vienna and New Delhi) and ILO (Bangkok and New Delhi) were fully represented in the first week, as was one New Delhi based officer of ESCAP, while UNEP participated in the first two days from New Delhi. The mission lead met with FAO in New Delhi and with the Embassy of France.
The first two days of the mission consisted of briefings by ISA across all their activities to bring everybody to the same understanding of the issues to be dealt with by the mission, to complement basic documents sent earlier consisting mostly of Assembly documents. ISA sought both advise from participants directly as well as ideas of sustained collaboration at the institutional level. The next two days were spent in detailed discussions of priority issues, with the mission divided between programme and operational matters. A final session on the last day of the first week brought together all participants to arrive at a set of actions required to take forward the identified areas of collaboration, both to guide the second week of discussions with a smaller largely UNDP team and the work to be done in April. In the second week detailed discussions were held on programmes and operations, a risk analysis was undertaken jointly, and agreement was reached to hold the wrap-up sessions in early May.