The UAE's long-term approach to sustainability is on show again as delegates celebrate environmental trailblazers
Sheikh Zayed's environmental legacy lives on in Abu Dhabi energy awards
When the Zayed Future Energy Prize was launched at the inaugural World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi in 2008, the landscape of the UAE looked very different. Oil had reached an all-time peak of $140 a barrel and the country’s development was in full swing before the global recession had bitten. Yet rather than simply reaping the profits, the wheels had already been set in motion for a long-term sustainability plan. Today it is a core tenet of the national agenda and one of the key objectives forming the UAE Vision 2021 plan. Great strides have been made in energy diversification, with forays into wind, solar and nuclear energy. Those plans culminated this month in the annual Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, the biggest event of its kind in the region. These initiatives are driving the UAE’s long-term progress and facilitating its transition to a post-oil knowledge economy.
Ultimately, we have the Zayed Future Energy Prize to thank for much of that fervour. The UAE’s Founding Father Sheikh Zayed had a lifelong passion for nature and the environment and often spoke of greening the desert. Today the UAE boasts more than 100 million trees, dozens of forests and some 160,000 hectares of arable land. As we celebrate the centenary of his birth in the Year of Zayed, his legacy of environmental stewardship lives on. At the Zayed Future Energy Prize ceremony, held today in Abu Dhabi, awards of $4 million were bestowed on pioneers of sustainability in recognition of work around the planet to protect it for future generations. This year’s awards build on a 10-year legacy of the prize, which was ahead of its time in recognising the importance of sustainability and rewarding its trailblazers. Distinguished previous winners include former US vice president and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Al Gore, who scooped the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.
Indeed, since its inception, winners have positively influenced the lives of an estimated 307 million people across the globe, with about 157 million people gaining access to renewable energy. The high school winners alone have saved more than 2,300 tonnes of carbon dioxide since 2013. This year’s recipients are equally inspiring. Today Japanese engineer Shuji Nakamura won the Lifetime Achievement Award for his invention of the energy-saving blue LED. Other corporate and individual winners included French solar streetlight maker Sunna Design and the Selco Foundation, a non-profit sustainable energy collaborative. But it is the school awards – given this year to institutions in Paraguay, Croatia, Morocco, Tuvalu and Bahrain – that best encapsulate the vision of the country’s founder. These are the environmental leaders and pioneers of the future, in whose hands the protection of the planet rests. Awarding them is vital recognition of their role in perpetuating the vision of the awards’ namesake.