Dubai has matched the UAE’s national ambitions on every level and shows no signs of slowing down.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” I am reminded of this quote when I think of climate change and the polarising effect it continues to have among nations and leaders. Hindsight is a double edged sword; while it gives a perspective, there’s always the danger that decisions made in ignorance or haste will forever be recorded in history.
This brings us back to the topic of climate change and to the stance the UAE has taken. It is a sign of a great nation that dares to swim against the tide, especially when doing so threatens the very foundation on which the economy has so far been surviving. And yet and in spite of sitting on 8 per cent of the world’s oil reserves and meeting the majority of its current energy demand with fossils fuels, the UAE announced at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi in 2017 that renewable energy would make up 44 per cent of its energy mix by 2050.
Even coming from the most developed country in the world, that would have been a bold statement to make, let alone from a country like the UAE, whose very existence has been based on fossil fuels until recently. It is an example for the rest of the world, an example set by a nation that has put its national interest aside in deference to a global cause.
This is the stuff leading nations are made of. In order for the UAE to achieve the goals it has set, the government is investing $163 billion into renewable, clean fossil and nuclear energy technologies, with expected savings of $190 billion.
It does require commitment to step away from conventional and age-old practices and venture into the unknown. For the UAE, that unknown is renewable energy.
Geographically situated perfectly to receive almost 10 hours of sunlight every day for 350 days a year, the UAE is at an optimal position to take advantage of the latest developments in solar technologies. The low cost of solar energy has also added to its fast-growing business appeal. This was affirmed by none other than Adnan Z Amin, the then director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) at the Biennial Solar World Conference in Abu Dhabi in 2017. He said he was optimistic about the future of solar energy in the region due to its dropping costs.
Another added bonus and a further feather in the UAE’s cap was when the country was chosen as the location to host the headquarters of IRENA. That coupled with the regions’ first research institution dedicated to advanced energy and sustainable technologies at Masdar City, has made the UAE the hub and one of the leading lights in the area of alternative energy sources.
Additionally, the government has made adjustments to its policies to address the issue of climate change. It has set a target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere by 70 per cent by 2050. The strategy of the UAE has been based on two pillars; the first one is to replace its own energy needs gradually but surely from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. In this, the country is well on track to reach its target. Already the cost of solar energy production has gone down to 5.84 cents per kilowatt/hour, making it cheaper than natural gas.
The second pillar of UAE’s strategy is that of knowledge and technology transfer. Even developed economies like Spain, UK and Austria have signed agreements with the UAE in the field of environmental protection and alternative energy. This is an acknowledgement of the UAE’s stature and the respect it is held in by the rest of the world.
The country has never hesitated from helping its neighbours, as well. Since 2013, it has through partnership with the UN or through bilateral cooperation, allocated more than $750 million to projects dealing with development of alternative energy sources.
This also includes water, wind and waste resources.
The future looks bright and sunny for UAE, with the Middle East projected to have as much solar power as current US levels within the coming six years. Dubai has matched the UAE’s national ambitions on every level and shows no signs of slowing down. The government is on its way to construct the Concentrated Solar Power project, be largest single site project.
At a time when most developing countries still lack the technology, human capacity or the finances to tackle their energy sectors, the UAE is poised to step into the leadership vacuum and to lead the way. The country has a ready market for its cheap renewable energy in the shape of Southeast Asia where energy demand is slated to rise to 67 per cent by 2040. The UAE could cater to this rising demand and in the process; it could chart a new model for renewable energy investment.
Habiba Al Mar’ashi is President & CEO, Arabia CSR Network