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INTERVIEW: Inhabitat Discusses the RIO+20 Conference with Thani Al Zayoudi, Directorate of Energy and Climate Change at UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs
INHABITAT: The start of the Rio+20 conference is upon us now. What is the UAE hoping to achieve whilst there?
Thani Al-Zeyoudi: The UAE’s ultimate goal in Rio is to ensure the success of the summit. We don’t want the summit to end without producing a clear path forward on sustainable development and I’m confident that the Rio Summit will conclude with a good outcome. We also want to show the world that a young country like ours, unified only 41 years ago, is capable of tackling the three pillars of sustainable development.
Rio also presents an opportunity outside of the negotiations with side events that promote the international exchange of ideas and information. We’re co-hosting an official event with Norway, called “Black Gold and the Green Economy” to discuss sustainability rationale within hydrocarbon-exporting countries like ours. Our high-level panel will also examine how the Rio agenda should accommodate surging hydrocarbon demand.
INHABITAT: One of the main topics of the conference is Sustainable Cities. The UAE is currently constructing Masdar City, the first “Zero-carbon metropolis.” How is progress going on the city and do you expect it to be the first of many?
Thani Al-Zeyoudi: Masdar City is among the most visible examples of how our country is addressing the global challenges of sustainable urban planning. It’s a low-carbon, low-waste city that’s pioneering best practices in sustainable urban planning, design, development and operation. We want to create a sustainable blueprint for the entire world to follow.
Progress is also going quite well. We’re scheduled to complete Phase 2 of Masdar Institute campus this year. Among the buildings currently under construction is the Siemens Middle East Headquarters, which is slotted for completion next year. Once the entire project is completed around 2025, the city will have about 50,000 residents drawing all of its energy from renewable resources. Energy and water efficiency is also a paramount feature. So far, Masdar City’s power and water demand is 50% less than conventional buildings in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE has also initiated and is leading the Global Sustainable Cities Network. This initiative underscores our active participation in developing world-class sustainable cities and partnering with like-minded countries to drive innovation and develop best practices.
INHABITAT: The UAE is quite diverse in terms of energy. Abu Dhabi has oil, while Dubai doesn’t. How does this affect energy policy overall?
Thani Al-Zeyoudi: This has far less of an effect on our energy policy than it does on our national economy. While we’re blessed with tremendous energy reserves, our founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan instilled upon us the responsibility of preserving our natural resources.
Our UAE Vision 2021 is guiding us in this and we are implementing a long-term approach to ensure sustainable national development. Yes, the UAE is a major oil-producing nation, but we do not have an endless supply. We want to meet the world’s energy needs over the next several decades, so we are actively working to better diversify our energy resources.
As a leader in the energy sector, the UAE has a responsibility to contribute to the energy sector’s evolution. We’re leveraging our natural energy resources, oil and natural gas, to bring about the additional resources the world will need to meet that future demand. And to ensure our country’s lasting economic competitiveness, we’re looking beyond traditional economic models.
INHABITAT: What are your greatest concerns about the current climate change debate and how do you feel they could be addressed?
Thani Al-Zeyoudi: The UAE wants to ensure positive results in the international negotiations process. As a coastal, low-lying country, we’re especially susceptible to the effects of sea-level rise and more prolonged droughts.
Our country is working hard to mitigate the effects of climate change. We’re using our longtime energy expertise as a foundation for innovating and advancing clean technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And with our sister country Qatar hosting the COP-18 talks later this year, the first ever held in a Gulf country, we see an opportunity to showcase the many mitigation efforts that are already taking shape in the UAE.
INHABITAT: The UAE is quite a wealthy region. Do you feel large-scale alternative energy projects are only viable for more prosperous regions?
Thani Al-Zeyoudi: Not at all. Clean energy development isn’t about wealth. It’s about a willingness to innovate. But prosperous nations do have a responsibility to help.
Through the UN Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative, the UAE is helping developing countries tap these innovations. As a result of our clean energy aid, a solar project in Tonga will supply 13% of that country’s electricity demand. And a rooftop solar project in Afghanistan is providing off-grid power to remote villages.
Also, through our leadership in the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development is providing even more funding for renewable energy projects in developing countries. We’ll be opening the application process for this renewable energy funding at the Rio Summit.
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