x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Oil giants can help green after Kyoto

The failed Kyoto Protocol will probably not be renewed. The world's new dual emphasis on remediation and on clean energy will be of special interest to this country.

From Desmond Tutu to the Pope, global opinion leaders are trying to rally support for renewal of the Kyoto Protocol to limit emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). But the latest climate-change talks, in Durban, South Africa, are generating only pessimism among activists.

The Kyoto plan, adopted in 1997, entered into force in 2005. But "force" is not the right word: despite global economic doldrums, the year 2010 set a record for GHG, the International Energy Agency says.

Controlling GHG may be the most complex economic and political problem the world has ever faced, since everyone without exception uses energy. Stopping nuclear proliferation is simple by comparison.

Increasingly, the world is turning away from emission limits, and towards two other approaches - both of special interest to the UAE.

One is remediation of the problems climate change will cause. The development of grain strains better suited to warmer climates is an example of this. Considering that this country's climate is already among the hottest on the planet, such measures will be important here.

The other approach is energy-technology innovation. Those who can offer low-emission energy will be the successors of today's oil exporters.

Perhaps literally the successors, in the UAE's case, because thoughtful strategic planning has placed this country at the head of the clean-energy parade. This may seem paradoxical in a major oil exporter with one of the planet's highest per-capita carbon footprints. But other "petro-powers", too, are moving in this direction; Saudi Arabia is working hard on solar power, and Qatar has big ambitions. Regional governments have a strong domestic incentive to go green: every barrel of oil they do not send to meet subsidised domestic demand can be sold at higher world prices.

The UAE has been particularly forceful in pursuing clean energy. When the new International Renewable Energy Agency based itself in the UAE, it was acknowledging that this country has already made itself a hub of the global trend towards cleaner power and fuel.

In both research (at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, to name one prominent example) and investments (such as the Gemasolar plant in Spain, the world's first to produce power around the clock, day and night) the UAE is contributing to the world's present and future energy security.

If Kyoto dies, as many expect it will, cleaner energy may well prove to be the best option for reducing carbon emissions. And if it is, regional economies are well positioned to take advantage.