x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE victory hailed as big step forward

Activists hope placing headquarters of energy agency here will boost environmental initiatives in Abu Dhabi, Emirates and the world.

The Masdar City development under construction in Abu Dhabi.
The Masdar City development under construction in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Environmentalists celebrated the announcement that Abu Dhabi would be home to a new green-energy agency, saying it would improve the country's image and encourage ecological efforts worldwide. Winning the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) was gratifying, they said.

"Our efforts from all these years have been recognised," said Majid al Mansouri, secretary general of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi. "Abu Dhabi is something we are proud of; we have initiatives that are being approved worldwide. To have such a prestigious new agency will reflect positively on Abu Dhabi." The UAE often has been criticised for its environmental record. It has the world's largest per capita environmental footprint. The Emirates is also the world's fifth-largest per capita energy consumer.

But recent steps to address those issues, especially in Abu Dhabi, have drawn praise. Masdar, the Government's sustainability initiative, has supported ambitious renewable energy and sustainability developments in Abu Dhabi and overseas, and was key to winning the Irena bid. In October, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, launched a ?25 million (Dh118m) fund to tackle species conservation worldwide.

"All of these initiatives have been working hand-in-hand to position Abu Dhabi," said Razan al Mubarak, managing director of the Emirates Wildlife Society. Besides the prestige of being host to Irena, the UAE will gain valuable knowledge in the renewable energy field, which will eventually help leaders diversify its economy, said Mr al Mansouri. This year, Abu Dhabi opened the country's first solar energy power plant and set a target for 2020: seven per cent of the emirate's energy production will be derived from sustainable sources, officials mandated.

"Having Irena here will create the momentum to meet and surpass that goal," Ms al Mubarak said. She added that Abu Dhabi's keenness on winning the seat "shows the UAE Government is committed in dealing with climate change". And the UAE's support from other member states shows the need to keep developing countries engaged in environmentalism, she said. How much of a role developing countries play in contributing to greenhouse gases and how the world should assign responsibility in preventing dangerous climate change have been central issues this year amid efforts to craft a new global treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol. The treaty expires in 2012, and a new deal is expected to be signed during a UN conference in December.

So far, the UAE has maintained the position that industrialised countries bear the responsibility for pollution and should be the only ones to commit themselves to cuts in greenhouse gases. But both Mr al Mansouri and Ms al Mubarak were careful to point out that winning the Irena vote and fighting climate change were separate issues. "We do not want to mix between hosting the agency and our climate change commitment," Mr al Mansouri said.

vtodorova@thenational.ae