Sustainability on Earth depends on our exploration of space

27 NOV 2018

Today, the world faces mounting environmental challenges. With rising sea levels, increasing ocean temperatures, desertification and resource shortages, our planet faces distinct and unprecedented threats. Now, more than ever, we must use all means at our disposal to develop cutting-edge sustainability practices on Earth as well as enhancing existing ones.

Some may wonder why a space agency, which focuses on furthering human knowledge of the universe, is concerning itself with environmental protection. Yet I would say that each and every one of us has a role to play in ensuring the future of our planet. Entire sectors, some of which are seemingly unrelated to sustainability and environmental protection, can in fact provide global solutions. I have no doubt that space is one such sector.

So, how can space science, dedicated to the study of the stars and the exploration of what lies beyond our fragile atmosphere, lead this planet’s efforts at self-preservation? One of the biggest differences we can make — whether on an individual or a global scale — is to improve efficiency in the way we use resources. By reducing the amount we consume, we decrease both our net waste and emissions. Here, we have already learned a great deal from space exploration, which requires highly efficient processes as a result of strict weight limits applied during launches.

Water preservation and recycling techniques have brought much-needed benefits to at-risk communities around the world. For example, the University of Kenitra in Morocco is applying techniques to filter and purify nearby groundwater supplies that were initially developed for recycling wastewater into drinking water for astronauts. Providing water for some 1,200 students, this reduces the need for transporting drinking water, bringing the added benefit of lower carbon emissions from the logistics sector.

This example highlights the clear imperative to develop innovative technologies for water efficiency and conservation, especially with estimates that two-thirds of the world’s population will experience water shortages by 2025. It also highlights the extent to which all of our actions are connected. When taken together, small-scale local projects around the world have a global impact on reducing emissions and waste.

This convergence of activities across different industries is an important area of attention. Through its far-reaching impact, the space sector operates at the intersection of other key industries related to sustainability — from renewable energy and oil and gas to logistics and construction.

As such, I’m pleased to see space added as a pillar of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. While the sector has already benefited environmental and sustainability efforts, there is always more that can be done. For example, the construction industry could adopt a range of new materials and technologies in order to reduce power demands in buildings, from self-illuminating materials to voltage controllers.

Locally, the UAE Space Agency, along with our close partners throughout the national space sector, have implemented a range of projects that will similarly bolster environmental efforts and sustainable practices, both in the UAE and abroad.

Firstly, the landmark Mars Scientific City announced by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has the primary objective of replicating conditions on Mars in order for us to develop technologies and techniques for surviving the inhospitable environment of our neighbouring planet. In doing so, we will produce tangible and practical solutions for some of our most pressing challenges, including sustainable water supplies, hyper-efficient recycling of resources and enhanced renewable energy production systems. Once launched in 2020, I am sure that the research and development set to take place at Mars Scientific City will bring tremendous benefits to humanity.

In the near term, the MeznSat project is currently being designed and developed by local undergraduate students at Khalifa University for Science and Technology and the American University of Ras Al Khaimah. The 3U CubeSat will collect data about carbon dioxide and methane levels above the UAE. This valuable data will then provide insights into the concentration of nutrients in the Arabian Gulf’s coastal waters. Among other applications, MeznSat will allow us to predict harmful algal blooms that can negatively impact on ocean ecology and enable us to implement precautionary measures to address them.

Pioneering projects such as these are providing students and early career professionals with tangible opportunities throughout the space sector — ones that will bring potential for significant and global benefit surrounding environmental protection and sustainable practices.

The Mars Hope Probe, which will enter the Martian orbit in 2021, represents the first Arab and Islamic interplanetary mission. Not only is this a truly inspirational project for our youth, it will also deliver on the environmental agenda. Vast amounts of environmental data gathered during the Hope Probe’s mission will allow us to get a better understanding of the Red Planet’s climate and, in the process, that of our own.

The range of scholarships and agreements with universities that we have put in place serve to facilitate our vision of using space to bolster sustainable activity on Earth. Indeed, with more awareness than ever about the environmental implications of our actions, engaging the upcoming generation and facilitating their entry to the sector and industry is one of the surest ways to achieve this.

Our future on Earth depends on our joint cooperation, and that is why I am proud that the UAE Space Agency can take learnings from the distant cosmos and faraway planets, and reapply them to those of us here on Earth. I firmly believe that the space sector is uniquely positioned to lead the development of sustainable technologies and to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

By H.E. Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi / Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills, Chairman of the UAE Space Agency


27 DEC 2018

Local data is the key to sustainable development

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent report has made the strongest call yet for rapid action on climate change. The stakes are clear: we need to up our game or face the grave consequences of a 3˚C+ world. That requires the sharing of knowledge and expertise amongst those affected and credible data for investors to assess.

Getting real on climate change means understanding that millions and billions of investment aren’t enough anymore. Meaningful action on climate change while also achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires trillions of dollars of investment in the coming years – money which isn’t currently flowing and which the public sector alone simply doesn’t have.

To accelerate investment our focus now needs to urgently shift towards providing investors with the information they need to commit sufficient funds and create conditions within which local markets can grow to rise to the challenge.

First and foremost, this means providing stable, reliable, standardized and comparable data to guide investment decisions. Second, it means taking a more holistic approach to how we assess the impact of business decisions, looking across the pillars of action to achieve the SDGs and accelerating domestic ownership of knowledge and entrepreneurial growth in local markets. Evidence, knowledge and local understanding are critical to achieving this.

Recognition of the systemic impact of our economic choices is also vital. That means building knowledge of investment and performance in energy and climate change, water, agriculture, electrification and mobility, biotech, as well as facilitative technologies from the internet of things (IoT) to artificial intelligence (AI). The only way to really do this effectively over time is at a local level, where people have a visceral understanding of how the world around them is changing.

We cannot succeed at this without finding new ways to access, analyse and assess the data underlying financial decisions and their impact. In the developed world there is a growing number of campaigns to accelerate this, from the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), Transition Pathways, the Principles of Responsible Investment, the Global Reporting Initiative, UN Global Compact Principles and more.

Where we see considerably less focus, however, is on using these principles and approaches in the development of markets in developing countries. There is some amazing work being done from Africa to Asia through the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED), Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) and Private Financing Advisory Network (PFAN) and many others – but what we really need is scale. A critical part of the process is catalyzing funds committed to the developing world in order to ensure that development advances in a sustainable fashion. Yet there is little centralized, standardized and reliable data from developing and transition economies and without data, investors are wary of commitment while policymakers can be slow to be convinced.

Information on the efficacy and impact of companies, projects and programmes in both climate and sustainable development is often poor, fragmented and collected using different methodologies. Understanding of the real-world impact companies exert is poor, incomplete, non-standardized, or inaccessible – every choice has an impact, from the purchase of goods, use of energy or taxation and regulation. At SOAS University of London, we are developing a project that aims to transform that situation, with the launch of the non-profit Climate and Sustainable Finance Data Initiative.

This Initiative is intended to be a global network, owned and operated by research centers in member countries around the world (from Burkina Faso to Bangladesh). A standardized database will be shared between members, ensuring the robust and standardized collection of data in domestic markets.

The Initiative will provide up to date tracking of the developing stock of private and public actors’ commitments in sustainable and climate finance. The database will include both quantitative and qualitative data, providing researchers around the world with a wealth of original data to research and analyse.

The Climate and Sustainable Finance Database will enable researchers, practitioners and others with an interest to see not only how much public and private money is flowing to and from developing and transition economies, but also to better understand both positive and negative impacts, enabling factors and barriers. This information can, in turn, be used to accelerate further flows of finance and enhance the effectiveness of existing investment.

Critically, the initiative will provide database and research training as well as digital learning on climate and sustainable finance to centres in the developing world. The long-term goal is for domestic research groups to become centres of climate and sustainability entrepreneurship, sharing financial and business models which work for specific markets.

By working together there is an opportunity for the developing world to leapfrog many of the mistakes of modern development, identifying and using cleaner forms of energy, protecting land and livelihoods and, at the same time, creating a more equitable future. If we can do this through the process of encouraging far greater investment in climate-friendly, sustainable development in the markets most in need, we might have an actual shot at solving the climate crisis.

If you are interested in becoming part of this global network, please contact for more details.

By Felicia Jackson / Author and Founding Editor, Bloomberg New Energy Finance


27 DEC 2018

It’s all agreed. Now let’s make the transition to a safe future

The optimists won. The Paris Agreement on climate change now has a ‘user’s manual'. On 15 December, after three years of negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, countries reached agreement on the ‘Paris rulebook’. The robustness of this set of guidelines is an indicator of the broad support that multilateralism continues to have in the fight against climate change – a problem with only a global solution.

If some had doubts about continued international support for the Paris Agreement, they had a good reason for that. Brazil, the world’s eighth largest economy, recently elected a president who during his campaign had promised to withdraw the country from the Agreement. Meanwhile in Europe, which has traditionally demonstrated strong leadership in both cutting emissions and providing support to developing countries, focus has been on the domestic side, with France grappling with the yellow vests movement, Germany preparing for a leadership transition, and the UK struggling with how to leave the European Union.

Despite the difficult political climate, earlier this month, 196 governments unanimously settled to close to 100 pages of text that will guide the individual and joint efforts of all countries to combat climate change. This guidance will be crucial to ensure a transparent flow of information on both countries’ intentions and their actual actions.

The so-called Katowice Climate Package, named after the Polish host city of this year’s conference, contains instructions that all countries should apply from 2020 onwards when communicating on their actions to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, or to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change, such as storms or droughts. Industrialised countries are also required to regularly report on the climate finance that they intend to provide for developing countries and later account for the funds they actually have made available.

The package also sets the rules for different institutional arrangements under the Paris Agreement, such as a compliance committee, which will be allowed to initiate consideration of non-compliance if a country has not submitted its plans or its reports on emissions or climate finance to the UN. It also defines the exact process by which the UN will periodically take stock of how countries are making progress towards keeping the world safe from catastrophic climate change. This ‘global stocktake’, which will take place every five years, will inform countries as they design their updated national climate change plans, also every five years, as part of what is commonly described as the Agreement’s ‘ambition mechanism’ – the heartbeat that now needs to become stronger.

The agreement in Katowice was significant for at least two reasons. First, it resolved major and politicised differences in view that were left unresolved in Paris in 2015, which evolved around how to ensure sufficient flexibility for emerging economies and other developing countries in implementing the Agreement, and how to make sure that there will be sufficient climate finance to help developing countries as they reduce their emissions and adapt to the already unavoidable impacts of climate change.

Second, it provided rules that are sufficiently detailed and binding and common for all. Common guidelines are crucial because reporting on countries’ emission reductions by using the same metrics and methodologies, for example, will allow for scientists to add up different countries’ pledges and actions to see how well we are on track and how much still remains to be done.

What Katowice did not succeed in was convincing the world that countries are on track to saving the world from climate change. This was not the principal aim of this conference, it can be argued. But the backdrop was hard ignore: the year 2018 has seen numerous weather extremes and natural disasters across the world, including a scorching summer in Europe, and deadly monsoon rains in India and wildfires in California. Messages from science are also growing stronger and more urgent.

While countries now have a solid rulebook for the Paris Agreement, there are few signs that the warning signals from nature and science are translating into sufficiently fast economic transitions on the ground. Global GHG emissions grew in 2017 while the latest science suggests that saving many small island states would require emissions to be halved from current levels by 2030. Even staying below the 2°C limit, to which all countries subscribe, will require unprecedented efforts from everyone, ranging from governments through to companies and individuals. Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, which will again bring decision-makers and businesses from all around the world to the UAE in January, will be the first opportunity to signal levels of ambition that match the scale of what is needed.

The Paris Agreement is ready for implementation. Now we all need to make it our priority.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Emirates Diplomatic Academy.

By Dr Mari Luomi / Senior Research Fellow, Emirates Diplomatic Academy


27 NOV 2018

The future of cooling Abu Dhabi

At the heart of Abu Dhabi’s sustainability efforts is how to efficiently provide the Emirate’s cooling. With temperatures staying above 30 degrees Celsius for nearly nine months of the year, there is huge demand for cooling for providing refrigerated transport for food and medicines, ensuring cool water supplies for residents and workers, and the need to keep buildings and data centres cool. In fact, almost 70% of Abu Dhabi’s electricity consumption is accounted for by air conditioning alone.

In line with Abu Dhabi’s sustainability ambitions to tackle climate change and reduce polluting emissions, there is an increasing demand to provide this cooling cleanly. As London-based experts in clean cold, we are proud of our groundbreaking innovations based on our zero-emission, liquid nitrogen technology, and we look forward to contributing to the UAE’s significant expertise on clean energy.

At Dearman, we have successfully shown what our technology can achieve, and that is why leading sustainability-conscious food manufacturers and the largest fleet operators in the world are coming to us. Given that 80% of the UAE’s food is imported through global logistics chains, we know we can be part of the country’s more sustainable future.

In food logistics, large delivery trucks typically have two diesel engines - the main engine to propel the vehicle, and a second engine to power the refrigeration and keep the food cold while in transit. The second diesel engine can be significantly more polluting, emitting six times as much nitrogen oxide and 29 times as much particulate matter as the main engine. This has significant impacts for public health and subsequently for healthcare costs.

In stark contrast to dirty diesels, the revolutionary Dearman engine is zero emission. It emits zero nitrogen oxides and zero particulate matter. Crucially for Abu Dhabi and its refrigerated delivery trucks, the extremely low temperatures of liquid nitrogen (going down to -196 degrees Celsius while in the tank), mean that the same tank of liquid nitrogen, while powering the refrigeration, also provides the cooling needed to keep food cold.

Similarly, the Dearman engine also has huge potential for use in electric buses. Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2018 was notable not least because the all-electric Eco-Bus was unveiled, running up to 150km on a full battery charge. In hot climates, 40% of an electric bus’s energy demand is consumed by the air-conditioning alone. The cooling derived from a Dearman system means the range the bus can travel is increased, without needing to increase battery capacity. In fact, with a Dearman system, the battery pack itself could also be smaller, cheaper and lighter.

In short, as shown by the refrigerated delivery and bus air-conditioning examples, our technology has enormous potential in Abu Dhabi given the Emirate’s huge demand for cooling all year round. There is ample supply of liquid nitrogen globally to supply thousands of zero emission Dearman engines - which helps the affordability of our technology.

Our refrigeration unit has already been used in delivery trucks by global consumer goods giant Unilever and British retail giants Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer. We are also currently running projects looking at using our technology to cool data centres, and help farmers reduce post-harvest food loss.

The UAE’s population is forecast to grow from 8.5 million in 2015 to 10.5 million in 2030, and naturally this will mean a growing demand for cold, whether in air conditioning, transport refrigeration, public transport, data centres, or elsewhere. The challenge will be providing this cooling in a clean way that is affordable, efficient and non-polluting. But the scale of ambition behind Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week shows a clear intent to meet that challenge head on - and we at Dearman would be proud to join you in delivering that ambition.

By Scott MacMeekin / CEO, Dearman Engine Company