In the late 1790s, the English scholar and economist Thomas Malthus published an essay warning that population and economic growth will outstrip the resources available to humankind, leaving us vulnerable to a resource-strapped future where quality of life will be compromised due to rising commodity costs and fewer resources.
It’s one of the first written instances of the importance of sustainable economic development. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that the term “sustainability” entered the discourse of business. This was the same decade that former Norwegian prime minister, and 2016 Zayed Sustainability Prize Lifetime Award winner, Gro Harlem Brundtland helped elevate societal awareness of sustainable development through her report, Our Common Future. It was another decade before sustainability became entrenched in the tenets of corporate social responsibility.
It wasn’t until 2015 that the UN Sustainable Development Goals were adopted, with language reminiscent of that seminal 1798 Malthusian essay, to “provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future”.
In 2023, thanks to the trailblazing work of those who set the course to mainstream sustainability, the concept has become integral to everyday life. From an ever-more conscious civil society to governments responsible for planning the long-term prosperity of their citizens, we are all thinking of ways we can meet the needs of today, without compromising the capacities of future generations to thrive.
The UAE has always put sustainability at the heart of its development plans. It is fitting then, that with Cop28 to be hosted in the Emirates later this year, the country’s leadership announced 2023 as the Year of Sustainability.
A first mover on bold climate action and sustainability, the UAE has always been, and continues to be optimistic about the opportunity we have to build a better, more secure and more prosperous world. In the words of UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan: “The preservation of our planet is not only a moral duty, but also an economic necessity.”
The significance of hosting Cop28 in the UAE, in the Year of Sustainability, cannot be overstated. As a responsible and trusted international partner to countries across the world, the UAE is well-placed to drive consensus on delivering practical solutions to slash emissions and ensure 1.5°C remains within reach by 2030.
Announcing the theme for 2023, President Sheikh Mohamed said: “Effective climate action requires a shared vision and collective will. As host of Cop28, we are committed to fulfilling our role as a global convener and will continue to support action and innovation in the field of sustainability.”
As the first country in the Middle East to sign and ratify the Paris Agreement, and the first in the region to announce a Net Zero by 2050 Strategic Initiative, the UAE is in an ideal position to deliver on Sheikh Mohamed’s vision for an innovative, collaborative approach to sustainable development.
That includes overseeing an inclusive, transparent and accountable Cop process that engages the public and private sectors, NGOs, young people and civil society. It also requires the scaling of climate finance and driving international financial reform.
By showcasing our success stories, and facilitating knowledge and technology transfers, the UAE is working to deliver an effective Cop process that builds trust in multilateral systems, drives meaningful outcomes and delivers realistic solutions that support the transition to net zero emissions by the middle of the century.
Hosting Cop28 at the Expo 2020 Dubai site will also build on the event’s sustainable legacy. The buildings and facilities used to “connect minds and create the future”, will now be repurposed to house the world’s most important annual climate change meeting, once again highlighting the guiding principles of sustainability that the UAE prioritises.
Driving a just and inclusive energy transition remains an integral aspect of the UAE’s sustainability drive – this year and beyond. On this point, the UAE’s long-standing collaboration with the International Renewable Energy Agency will remain crucial.
The UAE’s investments in renewable energy projects, both domestically and across the world, speak for themselves.
Building on a track record of almost two decades of climate innovation to drive sustainable economic growth, the UAE is now home to three of the largest and lowest-cost solar plants in the world, the first country in the region to deploy industrial-scale carbon capture technology, the first to deploy zero emission nuclear energy and a pioneer in new zero-carbon energies such as hydrogen.
Further, the UAE’s role as a global bridge-builder between nations, has led to investments of more than $50 billion in clean energy projects in six continents, including 70 nations – 27 of which are climate-vulnerable island nations.
Beyond renewables, the UAE is actively involved in key sustainability initiatives with Irena that span education, decarbonising industry and clean cooking. The wide range of projects and initiatives we are working upon hand-in-hand with the international community to deliver to all communities, especially those in climate hotspots, demonstrates the holistic, whole-of-society approach the UAE takes to sustainability.
It’s an approach that we will see on full display throughout 2023, and beyond, as we help the world transition to a cleaner, greener, more sustainable future.