UAE can lead push for a global green economy

Björn Kjerfve

The UAE has become a front-runner in the environmental arena on an international level, grabbing headlines for its ambitious environmental projects and for being selected as the headquarters for the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena).

Experts worldwide are testifying to the efforts here in this domain. During the 6th Green Economy Annual Conference in May, views were expressed on how the UAE is well on its way to possessing a true green economy in the near future. The director of the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, Professor Douglas Crawford-Brown, testified to this fact, stating that the Emirates has “unprecedented resources to … probably move past Germany in terms of developing a green economy”.

There is no denying the great strides made in terms of environmental initiatives, despite the world’s scepticism. When the UAE began to undertake large-scale environmental initiatives, it might have seemed so paradoxical that a major oil producer would make such progress in the “green world”, but the critics have been proven wrong.

However, despite the progress made, we have still got more to go. What does the UAE need to do to become a global “green” leader?

As with any sector, innovation and research are key. We need to come up with creative methods to make the transition to a fully green, sustainable economy in a manner that is efficient, cost effective and realistic. The UAE’s academic sector has already made a number of important strides towards this goal.

One notable example is the work being done by Sharjah’s Gulf Ecosystem Research Centre, established in 2012 as a joint initiative between the American University of Sharjah (AUS) and Bee’ah. With a grant of Dh30 million to be provided over five years, the centre conducts research on Arabian Gulf ecosystems and offers advice on long-term solutions to ecological problems. A key focus area of its work is the influence of natural and man-made interactions on the environment.

Another important project is the IAEA Technical Cooperation Project, which investigates properties of natural environments, such as dust in the air and extremely high water salinities, to understand their interaction with anthropogenic emissions; and how that forms interactions with fine and ultrafine particulate size materials, some toxic. The IAEA Technical Cooperation Department partnered with AUS in organising a workshop to look into evaluating and mapping air pollutants using nuclear analytical techniques this year. AUS is also working with Sharjah Electricity & Water Authority in researching energy, water, desalination, and recycling.

A lot of work has been done so far, but there is more to go, to enable the UAE to reach its ambitious sustainability goals. The UAE Vision 2021 National Agenda has set goals to improve the quality of air, preserving water resources, increase the contribution of clean energy and implement green growth, and we all have to contribute to make this aim a reality on ground.

Funding remains a challenge for many institutions. We all know that money makes the world go round, and the environmental arena is no different than other sectors in that regard. It is great to see the nation’s leadership encouraging “green thinking” and to witness the creative ideas the private and academic sectors are coming up with, but without increasing funding many ideas will remain in the concept stage.

The UAE has already taken active steps to tackle this, through collaborating with the banking sector to come up with attractive offers that encourage green investments. The country is expecting to see its debut green sukuk bonds issuance this year.

Energy, sustainability and new sources of power – these are all themes that are on the global agenda, as the world faces growing challenges with fluctuating oil prices and growing concerns about finite water and energy resources worldwide.

Dubai has identified sustainability as a key theme of its upcoming Expo 2020, recognising the undeniable truth that all economies have to factor in “green” strategies to survive in the coming years.

If the UAE continues to apply the strategy it has at hand, and the world of academia focuses more of its research efforts on this area, the Emirates will soon become a true leader in the green revolution that the world is witnessing.

Björn Kjerfve is the chancellor of the American University of Sharjah


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