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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 November 2018

World Government Summit shows how the UAE is leading the way in innovation

Science, technology, health and climate change are on the agenda at the annual conference

An Emirati woman pauses at the Museum of the Future of the World Government Summit in Dubai, where innovation and technology top the agenda. Kamran Jebreili / AP
An Emirati woman pauses at the Museum of the Future of the World Government Summit in Dubai, where innovation and technology top the agenda. Kamran Jebreili / AP

The sixth World Government Summit in Dubai this year has attracted 4,000 leaders in the fields of business, politics, science and more besides to deliberate the future of government. Global heavyweights like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde are in attendance. Mohammad Al Gergawi, UAE Minister for Cabinet Affairs and the Future, used his keynote address to specify future challenges facing policymakers in health, climate change and technology. Certainly, here in 2018, the pace of global change has never felt so rapid. Data is the “oil of the future”, said Mr Al Gergawi. Having led the world in oil production, the UAE is now making strides to master technological innovation. And given the desire of the summit to set the agenda for future governments, the UAE is the perfect venue. Global summits are often criticised for their abstraction. With its concrete solutions, the World Government Summit cannot be. But aside from the changes it will effect, the annual summit allows the UAE to impart its vision on the world. It is a vision that embraces the future and puts innovation at its heart.

Many of the innovations on the table this week are already in practice in the UAE but for many countries, they remain aspirational goals. Nowhere is this foresight more evident than in the UAE’s flourishing space programme. Speaking at the summit on Sunday, renowned American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson extolled this country’s efforts in space. “This is already the city of the future,” he said. “Everything is in place to bring a force of nature to the next generation.” His praise is not without foundation. Projects like the Emirates Mars Mission and KhalifaSat – the UAE’s first earth observation satellite – will inspire a generation. Three thousand Emiratis have applied to be astronauts, a quarter of them women. When it comes to space, this country continues to push the boundaries of what is humanly possible.

But as the summit is showing, the UAE’s innovative governance runs even deeper. US geneticist Craig Venter told delegates that progress in medicine and genetics will soon enable doctors to detect deadly diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s earlier than previously – and therefore to treat them earlier too. With health systems across the world overburdened and retroactive, this country’s interest in preventative care shows foresight. As does its approach to the environment. Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, told delegates: “Climate change is the biggest threat we’ve ever faced, but it’s also the greatest opportunity.” This country realised long ago that environmental action will bring jobs and prosperity. The Vision 2021 plan puts sustainability at the heart of the national agenda. Significant investment in solar, wind and nuclear energy has followed. The summit also touched on the refugee crisis, museums of the future, and legislating for happiness. As the conference comes to a close, it will have presented a vision of governance worthy of emulation. The UAE has come a long way since the first summit in 2013. Fortunately, its innovation shows no sign of abating.