Abu Dhabi: Over the next two days, UAE will host one of the most important meetings on climate change in many years. The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, will convene a gathering of around 100 ministers as well as thought-leaders such as former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US Vice-President Al Gore, to shape more ambitious actions on climate change.
This meeting, titled the “Abu Dhabi Ascent”, is in preparation for a Climate Summit to be held for heads of state in New York in September this year. The aim is to encourage more ambitious actions to reduce emissions and help vulnerable populations deal with the impacts of climate change.
The fact that this meeting is being held in the UAE is tribute to the central role we now play in supporting practical actions to address climate change. Our contribution is based on a combination of strong domestic action, international investment, and support for international cooperation.
I want to reflect on why our country has taken on such a role. In barely two generations we have built a modern nation in the desert. This remarkable achievement owes much to three principles that have guided us throughout our history.
The first is a profound appreciation for the natural world, and for the natural resources on which we all depend. Our founding father, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, said, “We cherish our environment because it is an integral part of our country, our history and our heritage. On land and in the sea, our forefathers lived and survived in this environment. They were able to do so only because they recognised the need to conserve it, to take from it only what they needed to live, and to preserve it for succeeding generations.
“With God’s will, we shall continue to work to protect our environment and our wildlife, as did our forefathers before us. It is a duty, and, if we fail, our children, rightly, will reproach us for squandering an essential part of their inheritance, and of our heritage.”
The UAE established the first conservation areas in the Middle East, and made respect for the natural world a core part of our values. Life in the desert makes a people acutely aware of the preciousness of water and food resources, and the importance of conserving them.
The second principle is openness and international cooperation. The UAE has long been a hub of regional and international trade, a meeting place for people from around the world. Today it is at the heart of the world economy. Domestically the UAE is a country famed for its cosmopolitan character, its religious and cultural tolerance, its championing of women’s empowerment and its diverse international population.
For a country like the UAE which relies on trade for the great majority of our food supplies, climate change impacts elsewhere in the world are every bit as important as impacts felt in our region. If climate change disrupts agriculture in one country, food prices rise everywhere. We live in an interconnected world, where what impacts one country affects us all. Protecting agriculture and other important systems from climate change will be an important part of the discussions in Abu Dhabi. The UAE firmly believes in multilateralism. Alone, no country can address climate change. Together, we all can.
Finally, our country is built on the principle that we should never lose sight of the long-term vision. The world continues to present new challenges, whether from political instability, war, natural disasters or financial crises. But while meeting these challenges we must keep an eye on the horizon, to ensure our long-term welfare.
This is why the UAE has invested at home and abroad in solutions to the climate challenge.
We have led the region in deploying clean energy, including four nuclear generators that are now under construction and the world’s largest concentrating solar power plant, Shams 1, developed by Masdar and opened last year.
We are deploying energy-saving infrastructure, from Dubai’s world-class light rail system to a ban on traditional light bulbs.
We support the development of crops that can thrive in arid conditions and that use less fresh water.
And we are investing in the future, with world-class innovation centres such as Masdar, which is both a world-leading sustainable urban development and the home of the Masdar Institute, a postgraduate education and research centre for clean technologies.
But our global vision means that we are also supporting international action. We have committed nearly half a billion dollars in renewable energy aid for developing countries. We are a major investor in commercial renewable energy. And we are the proud host country for the International Renewable Energy Agency.
Increasingly, the UAE is the place where the world comes together to build practical solutions. Events such as the World Future Energy Summit, the International Water Summit, and the Zayed Future Energy Prize have placed us at the centre of global cooperation and debate. Our country is among the most active participants in international negotiations on climate change and sustainable development.
The Abu Dhabi Ascent is a further indication of our recognized leadership on climate change solutions. We should celebrate this fact, and continue to do more. The coming negotiations for a new climate agreement in 2015 provide an opportunity to build on this progress. The sustainability dimensions of Expo 2020 will provide another.
Together, I am convinced that we can rise to the challenge of climate change. The UAE is proud to play our part in supporting this effort.