x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

We need clean, green energy: the road starts here

The first formal meeting of the International Renewable Energy Agency since Abu Dhabi was selected to host the agency is taking place in the capital.

Representatives from the member states of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) are gathering in Abu Dhabi for the first formal meetings since the capital was selected to host the agency in June. The discussions, which will focus on setting Irena's working agenda for the coming year, offer an opportunity to consider the role the agency will play, the crucial issues it will tackle and what this means for us here in the UAE and the Middle East.

Irena was established in January as the first multilateral agency dedicated to renewable energy. In the 10 short months since its launch, it has not only found a home on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, in Masdar City, it has also quickly grown to include 137 member states. In fact, Irena could not have been set up at a more important time in the global debate on climate change and energy security. The nature of the challenges we face is by now well known. The key issue facing our world today is not defining the problem, but rather how to tackle the global energy challenges in a way that can sustain human progress and economic development while safeguarding our environment and the future of our planet.

The good news is that government leaders, academics and business leaders the world over are increasingly emphasising the need for urgent action. One need only reflect on the UN General Assembly recently in New York, where heads of state and government from 163 nations acknowledged the need to combat global warming and climate change, to realise the extent to which energy challenges have moved to the forefront of the international policy agenda.

This is encouraging, but clearly there is no magic bullet and no single answer to the challenges that must be overcome if climate change is to be tackled. It is also clear that we must now move from global recognition and acceptance of the scientific facts towards concerted action and international co-operation if we are to begin to resolve these issues. This is where Irena comes in. With two thirds of the world's nations already members, the agency is well placed to fulfil its mandate of becoming a driving force for the promotion and adoption of renewable energy and clean technology.

The agency's worldwide and comprehensive reach is unique; it aims to work with both industrialised and emerging economies, helping to develop policy frameworks and provide practical advice for the transition to more sustainable energy solutions. As a governing body and voice of authority for renewable energy, Irena will supply effective financial mechanisms, regulatory frameworks and the best practices to ensure the successful adoption of renewable energy - in effect, moulding future energy policies. As hosts, Abu Dhabi and the UAE have a unique opportunity to develop our own renewable energy sector, interacting and exchanging knowledge with the global experts that Irena will attract to the country.

The UAE has long been a key player in global energy markets. The Government of Abu Dhabi has built on this to spearhead the development of a renewable energy sector in the Middle East. This vision was crystallised with the launch of the Masdar Initiative in 2006, integrating the full renewable and clean technology life-cycle - from research to commercial deployment - with the aim of creating viable alternative and clean energy solutions.

Masdar City and Masdar Institute of Science and Technology are attracting leading academics, researchers and businesses eager to situate themselves in an environment that will promote and adopt research, development and technological innovation. Irena will be part of this thriving environment, underscoring Masdar's aim to become a global cooperative platform in the search for solutions to the pressing issues of energy security, climate change and the development of human expertise in sustainability.

The global renewable energy industry will consequently be naturally drawn to Abu Dhabi and Masdar City to forge relationships with policy makers and leading businesses. This will foster the growth of an entirely new economic sector, one that will help to further diversify the economy and develop our human capital. Crucially, the clean technology cluster being created in Masdar City will transform us from technology consumers to technology producers.

Beyond the research laboratories and global policy debates, the presence of Irena in the UAE and the establishment of Masdar will have a positive impact on how we as individuals use and consume energy. While the creation of policy frameworks and the building of renewable energy facilities such as solar plants will significantly contribute toward the mitigation of climate change, real change depends on households and businesses reducing their energy consumption through conservation and the elimination of waste.

These are nascent concepts in the UAE and the wider Middle East. However, just as recognition of the need for action is now widespread on the global political level, so too is awareness of personal responsibility. I am confident that, in finding ourselves at the centre of the global energy debate, those of us who call the UAE home will increasingly become aware of the role we are playing, now and in the future.

On a broader political level, the UAE Government has clearly established itself not only as a leading Arab voice on the global stage but also as a constructive contributor to resolving global challenges. The Government has shown itself to be a serious force in the political arena, elevating its profile and garnering a tremendous amount of respect from developing and developed countries alike. The relationships established during the Irena HQ bidding process will remain a benefit for many years to come. As host nation we will have a role in shaping the growing future energy industry and its policies. Abu Dhabi is now the centre of the renewable energy debate, a place where politicians will gather to discuss the future of the industry.

We have been given a responsibility to establish a strong foundation upon which Irena will be able to succeed. Willingly we take on this challenge; we can only expect to benefit further from the experience that Irena brings to our doorstep as all nations look for leadership and direction on renewable energy.