Almost exactly one year ago, I believed that 2020 would be remembered as the year the world finally got its act together on climate action. All the signs were positive: public pressure was being matched by political will. Ambitious milestones and targets were to be put in place, and, fuelled by footage of wildfires and storm damage, climate change was high on the media agenda.
The pandemic put those hopes on hold, with climate change being eclipsed by a news cycle dominated by COVID-19. This year, it is my sincere hope that 2020 was just a bump in the road: opportunities delayed, rather than thwarted. In fact, with the world pinning its hopes on a post-COVID ‘green recovery’ fueled by infrastructure spending, I believe that this year we are looking at the best opportunity of our lifetimes to enact real, long-term change and limit global warming to 1.5C by the end of the century.
The pandemic may well have focused our collective will: unchecked climate change, after all, will be far more devastating for the world than COVID-19. The response to the pandemic, and particularly the speed in which numerous effective vaccines were developed, tested and rolled out, showed us that governments, businesses, investors and researchers can work together to ensure funding, personnel and resources can be allocated where they can be most effective.
It is my hope that this year’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) will be remembered as a platform through which we helped forge this collective will in regard to the green recovery and to climate action. As one of the world’s most recognized sustainability gatherings for more than a decade now, ADSW is this year being held virtually, and bringing together more of the world’s most influential experts and leaders in sustainability and climate action than ever before.
We’re building on solid momentum: between 2015 and 2020, solar and wind capacity around the world more than doubled, from less than 700GW to more than 1,400GW, and by early 2020 renewable sources were accounting for 28 percent of global energy generation. At the same time, US President-elect Joe Biden, through his Build Back Better initiative, is putting sustainable infrastructure investment and clean energy transition at the top of his agenda. (We had the honor of hosting the president-elect at Masdar City, when he visited the UAE in 2016, and he expressed a keenness to enhance co-operation between the US and UAE in clean energy.)
For over a decade now, the UAE and Masdar have been playing a leading role in supporting climate action, both here and abroad. At Masdar City, for example, we have created a complete sustainability ecosystem that allows new ideas to develop and to thrive, and which is home to more than 900 innovative enterprises from around the world today. And, with partners including Taqa and EDF Renewables we are proud to be part of the 2 GW Al Dhafra solar project – a testament to the UAE’s commitment to clean energy.
This commitment was further reinforced at the end of 2020, with the UAE’s leadership announcing we would reduce our carbon emissions by 23.5 percent by 2030, in line with our commitment to the Paris Agreement. This translates into absolute emission reduction of about 70 million tonnes and will be achieved through more clean energy capacity as well as boosting energy efficiency; increasing carbon capture; promoting sustainable agriculture; and implementing environment-friendly waste management.
In the UAE, our clean power capacity – including solar and nuclear – is set to meet the target of 14GW by 2030, increasing from just over 100 MW in 2015, and 2.4 GW in 2020. Masdar pledged in 2019 to double the capacity of our generation portfolio – then at 4 GW – within five years. In fact, we have already exceeded that target in 2020. Our portfolio including operational projects and those under delivery, has a capacity of more than 10 GW, displacing some 16 million tonnes of CO2 each year.
Any green recovery that is committed to mitigating climate change will require the highest levels of collaboration and partnership between countries, businesses, and societies, and here, too, we see opportunities in 2021. With technology, we must invest more into the potential energy sources of the future, such as green hydrogen, as well as finding more efficient battery and storage solutions, developing smart grids, and introducing mobility infrastructure such as charging stations.
The historic Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE will bring about a new era of cooperation and co-investment in clean energy, among other opportunities. And, at the end of this year, we at Masdar will be part of the UAE’s delegation to COP26, the UN climate talks, where real progress must be made on drawing a roadmap to achieving the UN Sustainability Goals.
In 2021, the stakes may never have been higher, but the opportunities have never been greater.
By Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Masdar