25 FEB 2019

Will China be the superpower in a world transformed by renewable energy?

Having led the International Renewable Energy Agency over the last eight years with a privileged insider view of the energy transition, I have become convinced that a new geopolitical reality is taking shape. The result will be a map of energy geopolitics which will look fundamentally different to the one that has dominated the last hundred years.

Where coal powered industrialisation in the nineteenth century, and oil drove nations’ alliance-making in the twentieth, a quiet revolution of renewables will transform the politics of the twenty-first century.

The untold story of renewables is that they’re transforming the global energy system at a speed no one predicted. In recent years, technological advances and falling costs have made renewables genuinely commercially competitive. Price trends suggest that by 2020, the average price of electricity generated by solar and wind sources will be at the lower end of fossil fuel prices.

The other critical factors in this quiet revolution have been agreement on the imperative to counter climate change, leading to ambitious renewable energy targets; action by investors; and a global public opinion increasingly supportive of renewables.

At present, around 80 percent of the world’s people live in countries that are net energy importers. In future, energy production will be dispersed. Renewable sources - such as hydropower, bioenergy, solar, geothermal and wind - are available in some form in most countries. Where the location of fossil fuel stocks was random and unequal, access to renewable energy will be far more evenly spread.

In a renewable energy economy, most countries will be able to achieve higher levels of energy independence: they will have greater energy security and more freedom to decide their own strategic priorities. In a world where over a billion people still don’t have access to electricity, the life-changing benefits of this potential new energy security cannot be underestimated.

Nimble players have already seized the opportunity not only to secure their own future energy supplies but to become new energy leaders. China has put itself in pole position to be the world’s renewable energy superpower. It is the world’s largest producer, exporter and installer of solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles, and accounted for over 45% of global investment in renewable energy in 2017. In Europe, Germany generated 40% of its electricity through renewable sources in 2018.

Of course, shifts in energy production won’t single-handedly up-end international relations. But "energy statecraft" will no longer have the same potency.

In years to come, fossil-fuel exporters will see a decline in their global reach and influence unless they can reinvent their economies for the New Energy Age. Over the last 50 years, some countries have used their position as the world’s largest oil and gas exporters to exert political leverage in their near neighbourhood and beyond. Energy choke points, such as the Strait of Hormuz leading out of the Gulf, have been vulnerable to terrorism, piracy, and bilateral flare-ups. As recently as November 2018, the US has flexed its muscles over the global oil supply with sanctions on Iran, albeit with limited short-term success.

The global leaders in the New Energy Era may surprise us. Diverse countries have already made impressive transitions. Countries such as Denmark already generate more than half their electricity from renewables; Costa Rica’s electricity was generated entirely from renewables for 300 days in 2017; the power systems of Germany and Portugal were able to run entirely on renewables for several days last year.

New geographies of energy trade could also emerge. Shipping routes will become less important; those countries with the best connectivity, networks and ‘grid infrastructure’ (power lines, storage facilities, virtual interconnections) will hold the strategic advantage in controlling energy supply routes. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to connect Asia, Africa and Europe through infrastructure, is significant in this regard. Countries may also seek to integrate their grids with those of neighbouring countries; for example, in the proposed Asia Super Grid.

But energy transformation is not without risks that could reverberate through international politics. The decline of the conventional energy system will generate stresses – like social tensions, unemployment in some conventional energy industries, and financial risks - which need to be managed effectively. Demand for the minerals essential for renewable technologies, such as cobalt and lithium, may drive tension or conflict: more than 60 percent of the world’s cobalt supply originates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example.

Still, the benefits of the New Energy Age will outweigh the challenges. With the demise of energy statecraft, the contours of foreign policy will shift, and the global distribution of power will change.

Policy makers need to act now to seize the opportunity of renewables and anticipate the challenges that the future holds. The New Energy Age will help shape a very different world, and every country has the potential to benefit.

By Adnan Amin / Director-General of IRENA

21 APR 2019

Youth… are they capable of leading the way?

The rapid changes currently taking place across the world have significant implications for our political, economic, financial and social systems. The disruptions posed by Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics and Big Data, have led us to the cusp of a new technology paradigm. Humanity now finds itself standing at a crossroads where we need to know how to adapt to these new variables. Collectively we must find how we can benefit from these changing elements and discover how we can positively influence key issues, in particular sustainability and development.

To be fully aware of the magnitude of what is in store for us and be ready for a brave new world, we need to look at the future through a new lens, keeping in mind the global challenges of resource husbandry, energy sustainability and wealth distribution equality. These issues are never more relevant than they are for the UAE and they compel us to focus on where our investment should be directed. We need to ask: who will propel us to the next stage of the future?

According to the latest statistics, the Arab world‘s population stands at 362 million. Youth are its largest age segment, with people under the age of 30 making up 65% of the total population. We have a golden opportunity if we can equip this burgeoning group with the necessary skills to create sustainable development. We need to harness their energy, as youth energy can be a double-edged sword. If invested in properly, it can lead to productivity and empowerment. If neglected, it can result in resentment and negativity, with young people feeling disenfranchised by not having the attributes that enable them to meet the demands of the future, or the skills to serve their countries and societies.

So it is incumbent on us to ask: are our young people capable of assuming the great responsibility we wish to place on them? Can Emirati youth successfully lead the country towards sustainable development? To answer these questions, we need to look to our past.

From the beginning of our great nation, the founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan set a template for ensuring that we invested in human capital, especially young people. To meet this objective he established short- and long-term strategies to educate youth, build their abilities and create within them new competencies. This policy stemmed from his deep belief that UAE youth are capable of leading the future of this young country, that there was no such word as ‘impossible’ and that a strong will combined with knowledge and skill can move mountains.

The UAE has reaped the fruits of this strategic approach, with the achievements of young Emiratis evident across numerous fields. Their successes have been recorded in sectors that include education, energy, the environment and space, with the most recent notable accomplishment being the launch of the satellite KhalifaSat, which was conceived, planned and built entirely with Emirati expertise.

It is clear that Emirati youth is more than capable of overcoming every obstacle in its path, but we should not shirk our responsibilities to them. The government has a duty to provide all the support and care for these ambitious young people by providing them with the knowledge, competencies and skills that will help them to navigate the challenges of the future. Many of these challenges relate to sustainability; sustainability of the environment, sustainability of the economy and sustainability of knowledge, the latter which was encouraged by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, when he called for life-long learning.

Advanced skills are the key to empowering Emirati youth through their focus on the lifelong learning journey. Advanced skills enable young people to continue their voyage of knowledge acquisition, to overcome challenges and to capitalise on investment opportunities, especially when it comes to sustainability and development of vital sectors that raise the competitiveness of our beloved Emirates.

Advanced skills are our youth’s tool to ensure that they are able to adapt to the changes that are taking place at an accelerated pace around us, whether these are technical skills or personal and ‘soft’ skills. If we look at advanced skills from a future perspective, we find that they need to develop constantly. The future is volatile and full of new challenges that impose on young people the need for flexibility if they are to meet its demands and serve the interests of their country and its future generations.

The UAE is moving steadily towards leading the future, with our wise leadership’s ambitions reaching beyond the sky. We have achieved in a few short years what other countries take decades or longer to accomplish. Our dream is growing and our young Emiratis are responsible for realising this and proving to the world that the UAE is the country of science, the country of knowledge, the country of the future and the country of sustainability.

By Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi / Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced skills

27 MAR 2019

It’s called the “Blue Marble” for a reason

Looking at the Earth from space, the enormous swaths of brilliant turquoise and navy blue dominate the picture, yet we focus so much of our attention on the landmasses floating amid all the water. Our oceans are the largest ecosystem on Earth - responsible for generating approximately half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, holding approximately 97 percent of the water on our entire planet. The oceans are vital to the existence of all species on those floating landmasses, including us.

However, our vast oceans are under threat. Activities such as mass overfishing, unprecedented plastic pollution, widespread habitat destruction, climate change, and coastline overpopulation are disrupting food chains, damaging vital marine ecosystems irreparably, and causing our oceans to suffer. What’s more, unlike sovereign countries which abide within set rules of jurisdiction, the oceans have no set boundaries.

As such, the threat to our ocean requires a cross-country collaborated solution. No one nation can address this problem on its own. Only global partnerships can underscore our collective commitment towards the protection and preservation of local marine biodiversity, equitable governance of coastal activities, and sustainable management of our marine resources.

The World Ocean Summit is essential in promoting dialogue with key stakeholders, and on behalf of Abu Dhabi Government, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and the Department of Economic Development (DED), are proud to have brought this critical conversation to the Middle East for the very first time. Gathering the foremost conservation experts and thought leaders from around the world to promote healthy changes to our waters and to showcase and share the best practices in marine protection and sustainable development, will allow us to create greater impact, together. This year, the World Ocean Summit also featured exciting new areas of innovation in the burgeoning field of ‘blue technology,’ including the use of underwater drones and advanced shipping machinery.

Despite being a desert nation, the sea has always been vital to Abu Dhabi’s history and culture. Located at the geographical epicenter of global trade routes with one of the most populous coastal communities in the region, Abu Dhabi and the UAE enjoys a rich tradition of trading, seafaring, pearling, shipbuilding, and fishing – with a growing attraction for tourism. Furthermore, with our drinking water supply coming entirely from desalinated seawater, and a reliance on potable water through plastics bottles, there is an urgent need for us to look at more sustainable ways to package our daily water supply and deal with broader desalination issues. Preserving our water is of upmost importance, with the UAE government making crucial investments in blue technology and aquaculture, and implementing major conservation initiatives such as our Marine Water Quality (MWQ) programme, where we use a network of 22 monitoring stations to collect imperative data on biodiversity to protect public health.

Later in 2019 the UAE will assume presidency of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) until 2022 for the first time since becoming a member in 1999. Organizations such as the IORA illustrate the importance of regions coming together to share the responsibility of maritime environmental quality. Coastal communities account for approximately 40 percent of the world’s population (with around 900,000 people in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi alone), which underscores the crucial need to effectively and sustainably manage the pressures of urbanisation and industrialisation on our oceans.

The governments of Abu Dhabi and the UAE are proud of our marine conservancy work so far, but saving our oceans is a responsibility shared by us all. By building bridges that connect us, we can come together as one and affect real change. It is in everyone’s best interest to preserve our oceans and ensure that the “blue marble” remains blue.

By H.E. Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak / Managing Director of Environment Agency Abu Dhabi

25 FEB 2019

Building sustainable transport solutions for a green economy

In the UAE’s Greenhouse Gas inventory, the Ministry of Energy recognized transportation as the 2nd largest contributor to the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for over 22% of total emissions in 2013. Of global greenhouse emissions, 26% is constituted by transportation, with almost 90% of vehicles relying on oil to run. As the UAE makes the shift to a green economy, it becomes imperative for us to address the challenges of this sector, and the opportunities it presents in green alternatives.
 
The UAE is one of the largest automotive markets in the Middle East, second only to Saudi Arabia. Given the pace of economic development in the country, accelerated infrastructure development, and evolving trends in the logistics industry, these numbers are set to rise. According to TechSci Research’s report, “UAE Commercial Vehicles Market Forecast & Opportunities, 2021”, the UAE’s commercial vehicle market is expected to grow at a CAGR of more than 7%, between 2016 and 2021.

As a pioneer for sustainable quality of life, Bee’ah was inclined to address the environmental impact of this sector, and the threat it poses to the quality of air in the UAE. Apart from being an active proponent for a green economy, our unique position as one of few companies to deploy an Air Quality Monitoring Network in the UAE, has alerted us to the environmental and health implications of transport development.

Starting the movement for change from within the organization, we implemented an advanced fleet management system, and began an active transition to eco-friendly vehicles. Through route optimization, RFID tagging of bins, and monitoring of real-time data, we have significantly reduced our carbon footprint.

However, to support the UAE’s vision for a green economy, sustainable mobility must become the norm and not the exception. To facilitate this widespread adoption, we partnered with Crescent Enterprises to launch a sustainable mobility venture, ION, in 2018.

ION is pioneering accessible and sustainable transport solutions, with the aim of creating a zero-emissions transport infrastructure in the MENA region and beyond. From electric bikes to buses, trucks, and even charging stations, we are transforming multi-modal, inter-urban, transport networks across the Middle East. To serve individual commuters, ION has deployed Tesla cars through popular ride-hailing platform, Careem.
 
We have also been supporting entities in reducing their environmental impact, serving as the official transport partner for events such as the Sharjah FDI Forum and the World Future Energy Summit.

Through ION, we have set a precedent for private sector participation in the sustainability drive, and there are possibilities for so much more. With the UAE’s mindset of exploration and pioneering for sustainable living, this is the ideal market for the future of mobility. Clean technologies can not only protect the environment, but also create jobs and trigger economic growth.

Leveraging industry knowledge, we can establish a framework for sustainable transport and implement carbon-neutral transport solutions, of measurable impact for businesses and governments. As the UAE aims to reduce 15% of carbon emissions by 2020, sustainable transportation will shape this low-carbon economy of the future, putting sustainability at the heart of our economic leadership.

By HE Khaled Al Huraimel / Group CEO, Bee’ah