ABU DHABI // Masdar, the capital's clean energy company, yesterday announced plans for three solar energy projects in Afghanistan and the Kingdom of Tonga.
Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Masdar's chief executive and the UAE special envoy for Energy and Climate Change, was responding to a challenge from the United Nations' secretary general, Ban Ki-moon.
Mr Ban was in the capital to announce a new global programme that seeks to reduce energy poverty and support innovation, thereby making energy production more sustainable.
Mr Ban officially launched 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy For All during the opening of the World Future Energy Summit at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
"Widespread energy poverty still condemns millions to darkness, to ill health, to missed opportunities for education," said Mr Ban, explaining that one in five people in the world still lack access to modern electricity.
"It is not acceptable that three billion people have to rely on wood, waste and charcoal for their energy needs," he added.
On behalf of the Government, Masdar will support the initiative with three projects, Dr Al Jaber said.
These include building a photovoltaic plant, which can transfer the sun's energy into electricity, in Tonga, an island state in the South Pacific Ocean.
The plant will have a capacity of 500 kilowatts, which is about 13 per cent of the total power capacity of the island. It will help save emissions of 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the air every year.
Masdar will also bring solar home systems to eight remote villages in Afghanistan, Dr Al Jaber said. The project would give about 600 households access to clean power and modern home appliances.
Masdar will also work with the Development Bank of Japan to fund renewable energy projects in other developing nations.
Dr Al Jaber was not yet able to confirm the budget for the projects or their completion dates.
Mr Ban said that ending energy poverty was "only half of the energy solution".
The other half, he explained, involves reducing greenhouse emissions, produced as humanity burns coal, oil and natural gas to satisfy its energy needs.
"Our planet is heating. We need to turn down this global thermostat," said the UN's top diplomat, reminding the audience of the need to cut greenhouse emissions in half by 2050 if the world is to avoid dangerous changes to the climate.
"According to the International Energy Agency, we are nearing the point of no return," he said.
Mr Ban said his Sustainable Energy For All initiative has three main strategic objectives - to ensure that all people have access to energy, to double the rate of energy efficiency, and to double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. The three goals are to be achieved by 2030.
"This is good for the economy, good for the environment and good for global equity," Mr Ban said.
Dr Al Jaber, who is a member of a special group created by the secretary general to focus on the issue of sustainable energy, welcomed the initiative.
"Allow me to thank the secretary general for choosing Abu Dhabi and the World Future Energy Summit as a platform to launch this initiative," said Dr Al Jaber. "Access to viable clean technology and renewable energy is critical to diversifying the energy mix and crucial to all of us."
Other prominent figures also welcomed the UN initiative.
"My hope is that concrete action will be motivated by this initiative," said Julia Marton-Lefevre, the director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. "Sustainable energy is also a profound challenge for the developed world.
"If the goals of the initiative are met, not only will it change life for all of us, but the sustainable energy for all will transform the future of this planet."
Dr Kandeh Yumkella, the secretary general of the UN's Industrial Development Organisation and co-chair of the high-level group on sustainable energy for all, said officials would use the Abu Dhabi summit and the first half of the year to promote political acceptance of the three goals announced by Mr Ban.
The goals would be taken to a global UN conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this June.
"We are hoping these three targets and objectives can become universally accepted," Dr Yumkella said. "We need to get these as universal, aspirational goals for everybody.
"This summit shows clearly ... that the technologies needed to meet these objectives are possible, the technologies exist," he added.