ABU DHABI // Abu Dhabi raised its environmental profile even higher on the world stage yesterday with landmark announcements on water resources and carbon capture and storage.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, revealed that an inaugural International Water Summit will take place in the capital next year.
Influential international experts will discuss how water resources can be used more efficiently, and the policies needed to encourage conservation.
Also yesterday, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Masdar, the capital's clean-energy enterprise, announced that the Gulf's first large-scale project to bury carbon underground is to go to tender.
After three years of negotiations, the two companies have agreed on a plan to inject carbon dioxide from a steel plant in Musaffah into an onshore oilfield after making "sufficient progress on the commercial principles", they said.
The project has widespread implications for Abu Dhabi's oil output and industrial growth, and the global fight against climate change that has been a key issue at the World Future Energy Summit, which concludes in the capital today.
"It sends a strong signal that carbon capture is not just for the sake of tree-hugging but is a viable commercial activity," said Philip Moss, a founder of the carbon and clean-technology advisory Mana Ventures and former head of carbon trading at Masdar.
The Water Summit announced by Sheikh Mohammed will take place alongside next year's World Future Energy Summit.
The event will showcase new technologies in the field, and further raise the profile of the UAE in the international arena, said Dr Sultan Al Jaber, chief executive of Masdar.
"Through this summit we are creating a pioneering platform for the UAE in the global sustainability sphere," Dr Al Jaber said.
It was important for the two events to take place simultaneously, he said. "Water and energy cannot be separated, especially in the UAE, where 70 per cent of water costs come from the energy needed for desalination."
Dr Rashid bin Fahad, the Minister of Environment and Water, said: "The summit reinforces the position of the UAE worldwide and also engages the UAE in facing the challenges of the world."
He added: “We can transform this summit into a platform that will give a lot to decision-makers and societies.”
The water forum will take place from January 15 to 17, 2013, alongside the energy summit, which in only its fifth year has already been established as a major event for energy companies, politicians, entrepreneurs and clean-energy advocates.
The issue of water availability is especially important to the Middle East, which has more than 6 per cent of the world’s population but only 1.4 per cent of its renewable fresh water, Dr Al Jaber said at the energy summit yesterday.
At 550 litres per person per day, the UAE has one of the highest levels of water consumption in the world. Many groundwater resources have been depleted by over-exploitation in the agriculture sector. In 2009, Abu Dhabi environment officials warned that
if the current rate of extraction of groundwater were to continue, water resources could be exhausted in 50 years.
Reserves of sweet or partially brackish water, best suited for irrigation, could be gone in as little as two decades.
Almost all drinking water is provided by desalination – a process in which the salts dissolved in sea water are removed, making it fit for human consumption.
Although water is produced in conjunction with power, which enhances efficiency, desalination has a large carbon footprint. In Abu Dhabi, electricity and water production are responsible for 13.5 million tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions a year.
Dr bin Fahad acknowledged the country’s large water footprint and said the Government had taken steps to reduce it.
“We are doing a lot to cut down,” he said. “The results need some time to be seen. The most important thing is changing the behaviour of individuals.”
Government and non-governmental organisations in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have launched campaigns to warn against waste. In the capital, an initiative to place water-saving devices into thousands of private homes and public buildings is under way.
Razan Al Mubarak, secretary general of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi, said that to reduce the country’s large water footprint further, government departments must adopt “a comprehensive, holistic approach to the water issue”.
“There is a need for the whole of Government to understand water consumption patterns and their implications,” she said.
“The announcement of this summit really draws attention to the connection between water and energy, which is particularly important in arid regions.”