In a conversation I had recently with Francesco La Camera, the Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), he said something which struck a resonant chord.
“When I first moved to the UAE [in 2019], I was not surprised by what was happening here, in terms of the modernisation of the nation,” he said. “But I didn’t expect the pace.”
I was talking to Mr La Camera about the UAE’s role in accelerating the global energy transition and securing a future of clean energy access for all, on the latest episode of On Renewables, the UAE Mission to Irena’s videocast (which you can watch here).
The reason Mr La Camera’s observation about the pace of the Emirates’ transformation hit home is this: it serves well to be reminded of how much our nation has achieved in such a short time, and how much we can achieve in the critical years ahead.
The UAE has become the global convener of choice for urgent international dialogues. This is especially the case when it comes to renewable energy solutions and the global energy transition. A natural next step in this direction is hosting the 2023 UN Conference on Climate Change, or Cop28.
We’ve become so accustomed to our achievements in the fields of renewable energy and climate action that we should not forget what those achievements are. Not only for what has been done, but for what can be done.
That the UAE is home to three of the world’s biggest solar plants has become so integral to our identity as an incubator of renewable energy solutions.
With 3.2 million solar panels installed across 8 square kilometres, Noor Abu Dhabi can produce 1.2 gigawatts of clean electricity, and meet the energy demands of up to 90,000 people. And soon, the Al Dhafra Solar Project, which set a record low tariff of $1.35 cents per kilowatt hour, is set to be almost double the size of Noor.
And in Dubai, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, which set the original benchmark for the world’s largest single-site solar park, spread over 77 square kilometres, has just seen the inauguration of a first-of-its-kind green hydrogen project.
It is worth noting that these projects were made possible thanks to international collaborations. In the instance of the two Abu Dhabi solar projects, that’s with leading Chinese firms – Jinko Solar Holding and China Machinery Engineering Corp for Noor and Al Dhafra, respectively. And in the case of the green hydrogen project, it is with close technology- and knowledge-transfers with Germany’s Siemens Energy.
And that’s just for projects at home. The UAE has been a pioneer in bringing clean energy to countries around the world. To date, the UAE has invested $16.8 billion in renewable energy ventures in more than 70 countries around the world. And in small island developing states and least-developed states alone, it has invested more than $1bn.
Countries from the Caribbean to Eastern Europe have benefitted from the UAE’s mission to make clean energy more accessible to all, regardless of socioeconomic circumstance. The nation’s leadership has pursued this model for good reason. What we see when we collaborate across borders is that costs come down, economic opportunity goes up and society at large reaps the rewards.
Having provided the headquarters of the world’s leading authority on the global energy transition for more than a decade, the UAE is perfectly situated to host the world’s biggest climate change conference.
In short, the UAE has become the de facto home of international collaboration when it comes to facilitating the global energy transition and renewable energy solutions fit for the modern world. This is also evidenced by the fact that Irena’s membership has grown from 85 member states to 164 in the 11 years the agency has been headquartered in Abu Dhabi.
Furthermore, Irena’s policy advocacy efforts, knowledge base and depth of analysis of the real-world impact of renewable energy has never been greater. Papers such as the Global Renewables Outlook: Energy Transformation 2050, which was the first report of its kind to provide a roadmap for the next three decades, have directly shaped public opinion on the need to accelerate renewable solutions at greater pace and scale.
Given this context, it seems a natural, almost evolutionary move that we should be the convener of the most important climate change conference on the planet.
The UAE officially launched its candidacy to host Cop28, on May 24, 2021. Since then, the support we have received from the international community has been substantial and reassuring in equal measure. Our international partners are cognisant of the pace of change here in the UAE. But perhaps more importantly, they are aware of the direction we are going in.
For, pace is nothing without direction. Ask any sportsperson or athlete. Any chief executive of any company, big or small. Ask any leader. What is pace without direction? It is merely energy expended without use.
Having the raw instruments at your disposal is only half the equation. Harnessing your speed and power into a single, coherent direction with a clear goal in mind is the other, and most crucial, half of the equation.
We are fortunate to have benefitted from the guidance and direction laid out by a leadership who intuitively knew that we must turn what we have into something that benefits everyone, and not just those capable of moving fast. Indeed, it is when these two parts of the equation – speed and direction – meet, that things get done. And that’s why the Emirates has become a place for those who do.