Here in the Middle East, the sense of excitement one month after the COP21 climate talks has electrified the halls of the massive convention center where over 33,000 people are expected to attend the annual Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW). This week’s agenda has already started with numerous side events building off COP21, including the annual assembly of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). But yesterday’s opening ceremony amplified COP21’s accomplishments, while reminding attendees that much work remains to be done if the world is really going address the risks posed by climate change.
It has been 10 years since Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company and the main sponsor of ADSW, was founded, and its chairman, Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, summed up in his opening remarks what occurred in Paris succinctly:
“For the past two decades, we kept saying ‘we can,’ ‘we should’ and ‘we must’ but last month at the Paris Conference of Parties (COP21), we did.”
Dr. Al Jaber also told the audience, “There has never been a greater opportunity to make real progress toward sustainable development and to create an economic potential that could drive sustained growth for future generations.” For Masdar — which has endured its share of ups and downs building its sustainability city near Abu Dhabi’s airport, as well as the challenges it faced working on renewable energy projects for the past decade — the past several weeks have been cathartic.
Ban Ki-moon, who has centered his tenure as Director-General of the Union Nations around campaigning for a global agreement to address climate change, also spoke with optimism at this summit’s opening ceremony. “We are the first generation with an opportunity to end poverty,” said Mr. Ban, “but we are the last generation with a chance to combat climate change. Clean energy is the key to both of these tests.”
President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico also addressed the several thousand who were in attendance, and the morning’s events also included the ceremony for the Zayed Future Energy Prize (ZFEP). ZFEP, which is best described as a “Nobel Prize for clean energy deployment,” awarded several clean-energy innovations within business, the nonprofit community and schools.
Clean energy indeed is the hot issue here in Abu Dhabi this week, and the exhibit halls in Abu Dhabi’s convention center are laden with booths showcasing countless products and services related to the sector. Dozens of industry groups from nations around the world have space devoted to their companies’ innovations, while companies ranging from startups to energy behemoths such as BP and Total also have a presence. What started several years ago as the World Future Energy Summit has morphed into a gathering that includes conferences on water and waste, as well as another that is devoted to finding ways to empower more women to enter the clean energy and sustainable development sectors.
With oil under $US30 a barrel and projected to drop even further in price, one would assume clean energy technologies to struggle in this business environment. But judging by the number of deals expected to be made in Abu Dhabi this week, and this event’s continued growth, watch for this sector to grow even more. Renewables have become more profitable even as they have become cheaper, and the optimism here signals that new sources of energy will have a banner year in 2016.
Image credit: Leon Kaye
Disclosure: Leon Kaye’s trip to Abu Dhabi was paid for by Masdar