The world’s focus is once again turning to the global challenge of climate change. In May, Abu Dhabi will bring the world together to drive more solutions.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, recently announced the UAE will host a critical meeting, Abu Dhabi Ascent, on May 4-5 in the lead-up to the September UN Climate Summit in New York. This is a striking recognition of the central role the UAE plays in global actions on climate change, as well as the close and growing cooperation between the UAE and the United Nations.
The dangers of climate change have returned to the top of the international agenda. In recent months, changes to northern weather systems caused by the warming Arctic appear to have pushed polar winds far into North America, causing record storms. At the same time, highly unusual storm patterns are attributed to flooding in western Europe and Asia. While no individual weather event can be blamed with certainty on climate change, each is part of an alarming trend that will only grow worse if we do not control global greenhouse gas emissions.
That is certainly the conclusion of many world leaders. Last month, US Secretary of State John Kerry put climate change at the top of the US policy agenda with a speech in Jakarta. The US and China have announced another partnership to cut emissions. This renewed focus on climate change is why world leaders will convene in the Climate Summit this fall.
Abu Dhabi Ascent is the most important step towards the development of more ambitious climate change actions to be announced in New York. As Ban said: “The UAE initiative to host the Abu Dhabi Ascent is an important concrete contribution to the Summit. This meeting is a critical milepost on the way that will help build the momentum we need for a successful Climate Summit.”
Such momentum on climate change is needed because global efforts to tackle it have slowed in recent years. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the main platform for this cooperation, has had some successes with establishing some climate targets and emissions trading under the Kyoto Protocol. Some of those efforts, however, fell short of what is needed — and the progress of other measures actually fell into reverse. For example, the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, as agreed in Doha in 2012, actually has targets for fewer countries than did the first. The result is that climate negotiations have pitted developed and developing countries against each other as both sides have disagreed on the most viable course of action.
As a result, the UNFCCC has set a goal of negotiating a new climate treaty, applicable to all countries, by the end of 2015. France will host the “COP21” conference that should reach this agreement. This is an important deadline, but to meet it all nations must work together on big win-win opportunities that will reduce emissions while driving investment in new technologies, innovation and educational opportunities for all.
This is where the UAE excels. Our nation has an impressive track record of leadership in creating positive solutions to reduce emissions while creating economic and social opportunities. A prime example is Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company.
Through Masdar, Abu Dhabi is proving the economic, environmental and social benefits of sustainability. The company is building the world’s most sustainable city to discover how design, infrastructure and technology accommodate for denser populations, while dramatically reducing energy, water and waste usage. At the company’s core is Masdar Institute — a world-class research university focused on advancing clean and sustainable technology. At the same time, the university is also training young Emiratis to become the next generation of UAE energy leaders.
Masdar is helping shape the UAE’s role as a true energy leader by complementing its hydrocarbon exports with renewable power. Through the development of mega-wind and solar projects, the UAE now delivers nearly 1 gigawatt of clean energy to international markets.
Renewable energy is also making a major contribution at home.
With the UAE’s booming economy has also come a rising energy demand at 9 per cent per year. Therefore, the integration of new, sustainable sources of power will ensure the country’s long-term energy security.
New energy investments have already launched. In Abu Dhabi, Shams 1, one of the world’s largest solar-power projects, now powers more than 20,000 homes. To the north, Dubai is developing the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park and has pioneered extensive public transport systems in the region.
The UAE’s commitment to a more diverse energy portfolio is also demonstrated by the construction of four nuclear facilities in the Western Region. These nuclear power plants, which will emit zero carbon emissions, will meet about 25 per cent of the UAE’s energy demand with safe, clean and reliable electricity by 2020.
These projects, however, are more than just about securing our energy future. They demonstrate the UAE’s shift towards a knowledge-based economy that will stimulate job creation, strengthen human capital and reduce our environmental impact. And the UAE must embrace and mature new sectors to ensure it remains competitive well into the 21st Century.
This dramatic change in the UAE’s economy is underway because our leadership has the foresight and focus to address immediate and long-term issues. True, political turmoil in the Middle East, as well as economic and political volatility around the world, offer plenty of near-term challenges. Nevertheless, we have not lost sight of the strategies necessary to steer the UAE and the world to achieve a more sustainable and secure economy. In some ways this steady, long-term vision is our greatest strength and our gift to the world. Such vision is behind our strong partnership with the UN, with which we work closely on long-term global challenges, especially on energy and climate change.
This May, as world leaders converge in Abu Dhabi, we will continue to help steer our country, the region and the world towards a more secure energy and climate future.
Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is the UAE Minister of State and Chairman of Masdar.