DUBAI // The former US vice president Al Gore urged Gulf leaders yesterday to keep trying to capture the world's renewable energy market. Mr Gore, whose campaigning on climate change won him a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, said GCC nations "have the wealth in their legacy from oil and gas, and the ability to follow a vision to take advantage of the whole world energy market in the future".
In a question-and-answer session at the Leaders in Dubai Business Forum, Mr Gore was asked by a member of the audience what the UAE could do to overcome the problem of low electricity prices inhibiting a shift to renewable sources. Mr Gore pointed to countries such as China, the US and Portugal, which had set percentage targets on how much electricity should come from renewable sources. "Europe has set a mandate and is going to be interested in buying renewable energy," he said.
"Even if electricity prices stay low, the market to sell renewable energy to Europe should be a very powerful incentive. "North Africa and the Middle East has as good a solar energy resource of any region in the world and simultaneously there is this tremendous need for portable water and desalination that is highly energy expensive. "It is extremely important in this part of the world. There is going to be an enormous global industry that is bigger than any other industry out there now, in solar, wind-enhanced, geothermal energy."
Mr Gore, the final guest speaker at the forum, held at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre, delivered a keynote address, entitled "Sustainable Capitalism When a Bailout Won't Suffice". The writer and star of the environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth emphasised the importance and long-term advantages for businesses that adopted sustainable environmental practices. Mr Gore said he hoped the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December would result in world leaders agreeing to an ambitious new global treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
Either way, he added, businesses appeared to be waking up to their role in tackling global warming. "Business is now coming to grips with sustainability and, specifically, the issue of global warming," he said. "It is different in different regions, but international companies are facing pressure from the northern United States, Europe and Asia. "I was in China last Thursday. Many people are not aware of how powerfully China is moving on this issue."
Humans put 40 million tonnes of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every day, said Mr Gore. Half of it went into the oceans, causing an increase in acidity, which interfered with coral and upset the food chain. It also affected weather patterns, said Mr Gore, who referred to weather changes in the UAE. "I have heard that in the last decade the number of torrential downpours during the winter have increased," he said.
"A decade-long trend is not enough to say that is because of global warming, but around the world these changes are taking place with surprising effects." Mr Gore, who described himself as "a recovering politician on, about, step nine", said awareness of the climate crisis in the UAE and wider region "is much higher than most people in the rest of the world give them credit for". He pointed to the Masdar City initiative to build the world's first carbon-neutral waste-free city, and plans to link the Middle East with Western Europe through North Africa.
"More energy falls on the surface of the planet in sunlight in one hour than represents the whole world's energy consumption in a year," he said. "Add to that, wind power resources in coastal areas, offshore areas and geothermal design advancements, and it is no wonder that some of the Gulf states are making plans to invest very heavily in this technology and see it as profitable." In the end, both nations and individuals would have to make the effort to achieve the needed changes, said Mr Gore.
"We have everything but political will," he said, "but political will is a renewable resource." email@example.com