An important producer of natural gas and oil, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has become known in the last decade for its growing efforts to fight climate change and advance the use of clean energy. From the annual World Future Energy Summit to its famous Masdar city that is transforming into a global sustainability hub, the UAE is becoming a global sustainability powerhouse. So it’s not that surprising to find out that the UAE is going to represented in the upcoming Rio+20 Summit by a delegation of more than 100 members, aiming to both learn and provide its own lessons to the rest of the world.
I had the opportunity to learn more about the UAE’s preparations to the summit and UAE environmental efforts in general from Thani Al-Zeyoudi, a member of the Directorate of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) within the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the UAE representative for the International Renewable Energy Agency within DECC, who is leading the UAE’s delegation to Rio.
TriplePundit: Can you tell us about the preparations right now for the Rio+20 Summit?
Thani Al-Zeyoudi: From the negotiations side, there’s a text on the table that the countries are trying to negotiate to get an outcome. The current situation of the negotiations is a bit slow, but we’re optimistic that the negotiations will move much faster in the upcoming weeks.
3p: What message you bring with you to Rio as a country that is a big oil producer but at the same time sees itself “at the heart of the clean energy revolution”?
TAZ: Our ultimate goal in Rio is to ensure the success of the summit. We don’t want to come back from Rio without having a clear way forward in this important field. At the same time we want to show the world that we’re coming from a young country, which has just been about 40 years as a united country and have done a lot of things in this field, tackling the three pillars of the sustainability development.
We at the UAE started sustainable development and environmental protection way back at the 70’s, when the founder of the UAE forced the oil and gas companies to stop gas flaring by applying a zero flare policy, and from there he put the environment and protecting our deserts as a priority. Lately, we set the target of 7 percent energy use coming from renewable sources in Abu Dhabi by 2020 and 5 percent in Dubai by 2030, which are the first such targets in our region, and by the end of this year we will finish the construction of the largest CSP project (100 MW) in the region. We also have an international project that has been launched few months ago – a renewable energy atlas. We’ll be launching our first solar maps in Rio.
3p: Are you optimistic about the summit?
TAZ: I’m sure that Rio is going to conclude with a strong outcome. For sure, each party is looking out for their own interests, but in general they’re looking to come up with a positive outcome.
3p: You mentioned your renewable energy use goals in Abu Dhabi and Dubai – are you going to meet these goals? Are you satisfied with your progress?
TAZ: The current international financial crisis has put pressure on most of the international technology players, but at the same time we’re moving ahead with our plan. As I mentioned this year we’re commissioning the 100MW solar plant by the end of this year. Next year we will have a second 100MW photovoltaic plant, so the work is in progress. At the same time we’re working on our internal policies and regulation to ensure that we will attract international investments.
3p: Masdar is working on a number of clean energy projects worldwide, from Scotland to Afghanistan – is it easier for Masdar to promote clean energy outside the UAE, or is just part of your growing global presence?
TAZ: Masdar was established to gather the whole value chain of renewable energy, from education to investments, both domestically and internationally, in order to combat climate change and ensure that we can support research and small entrepreneurs in this field. When it comes to international investments, we invest because we believe in this sector and at the same time we would like to send a message to the world that we would like to expand green technologies and the green field using our oil wealth.
3p: Are you afraid that the shift from fossil fuel to clean energy will have a negative impact on your economy?
TAZ: No. Our transition to clean energy is a way to diversify our economy. Our role in fossil fuel is going to be maintained for sure because the global demand for fossil fuel keeps increasing. At the same time, we would like to be part of the clean energy leadership because we see it as an opportunity to bring new technologies to market. We don’t want to be late as we know that in 5-10 years the clean energy sector is going to be mature enough that if we’re not in that race from early on, we will be behind many other countries.
3p: Do you believe that climate change and clean energy can become uniting themes in the area? Maybe even a bridge for peace in the Middle East?
TAZ: Climate change is affecting everyone. Our environment does not have borders. Climate doesn’t have borders. We all need to work together to combat climate change as we’re all going to be affected.
Hopefully the other participants in the summit will share Al-Zeyoudi’s open-mind thinking and optimism. They’ll definitely need it in order to achieve a meaningful outcome that will send him back to the UAE with more hope that the global community is indeed moving in the right direction.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Department of Business Administration, CUNY and the New School, teaching courses in green business and new product development.