Let me start with an admission. When I first heard about Abu Dhabi’s Masdar initiative, I was sceptical. Abu Dhabi, blossoming from the desert because of the bounty of its oil, was championing renewable energy? The UAE, one of the least resource-efficient countries in the world, wanted to be a clean energy leader?
Fast forward a decade, and my scepticism has evaporated. During that time I have worked closely with the Masdar team as they built their investment portfolio. I have visited Masdar City and seen its pioneering energy-efficient buildings like Siemens’ Middle East Headquarters. I served on the Selection Committee for the Zayed Future Energy Prize for its first three years, and have supported the discussions of the Jury since then, in the process learning a little about Shaikh Zayed’s life, his world view and legacy. I have paid multiple visits to Abu Dhabi; I have gone kayaking among its threatened mangroves.
With the benefit of this experience, I can report that the UAE is serious about sustainability — as serious, in fact, as any other country I have visited. Like other countries, of course, the UAE struggles to manage trade-offs: between the need of its people for jobs and development, and the need to preserve its environment; between the availability of appropriate technologies and the availability of finance; but I believe the UAE is as committed as any country to improving its sustainability year on year.
I also note that the UAE is not just committed to improving its own domestic sustainability performance, but to playing a leadership role within the Mena region and in the world. The Masdar Institute, the World Future Energy Summit, the Zayed Future Energy Prize, and the recently-launched Women in Sustainability, Environment and Renewable Energy (WiSER) initiative, are all testaments to its leadership aspirations, as was the determination to host the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) and Abu Dhabi’s support of the UN’s Sustainable Energy For All initiative. And, of course, Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW).
This year’s ADSW could not come at a more critical juncture. The Paris Climate Agreement, signed by 196 nations at the end of last year, goes far further than most observers expected, committing the world to eliminating net CO2 emissions before the end of this century.
This is a dramatic moment for the region. Luckily, it is also a dramatic moment in terms of the clean energy technologies which Masdar has pioneered: we are seeing wind and solar power becoming competitive without subsidies in more and more countries around the world, and electric vehicles picking up momentum, even in the face of low oil prices.
The UAE is in an enviably strong position: rich in financial resources and energy sector knowledge; rich in renewable energy resources; geographically blessed, sitting as you do between the markets of Europe and the emerging technology and manufacturing powerhouse nations of Asia; and with a head start of all you have achieved so far.
The post-Paris world will see aggressive targets for the UAE’s energy, resource, infrastructure and building sectors. Abu Dhabi will also double down in terms of its leadership role — convening and coaching its regional peers, continuing its commitment to intergovernmental platforms it has helped build, upping the ante in terms of global educational activities.
This journey will also witness the UAE’s new financial centre become a world hub for sustainable finance: green bonds, green Sharia investments, low-carbon funds, resilient infrastructure finance, carbon trading and the like.
Personally, I have no doubt that the UAE will play a crucial role in the world’s transition towards a more sustainable economy. I look forward (this time without scepticism!) to accompanying the UAE on the next decade of its journey, starting with the discussions I shall be having with global investors, executives and policymakers at ADSW 2016.
Michael Liebreich is chairman of the Advisory Board at Bloomberg New Energy Finance and a board member of Transport for London.