A year ago I believed that 2020 would be remembered for being the year when the world finally got its act together on climate action. The signs were all positive: public pressure was being matched by political will, targets were being put in place and footage of wildfires and storm damage were figuring high on the media agenda.
The pandemic put those hopes on hold. News of climate change was eclipsed by Covid-19. I do sincerely hope, however, that 2020 was just a bump in the road, a matter of opportunities delayed rather than thwarted. In fact, with the world pinning its hopes on a post-Covid ‘green recovery’ fuelled by infrastructure spending, I believe that this year we are looking at opportunities to enact real, long-term change and limit global warming to 1.5°C by the end of the century. Unchecked climate change, after all, will be far more devastating for the world than Covid-19.
The pandemic may well have focused our collective will. The global response to it – and particularly the speed at which vaccines were developed, tested and rolled out – shows that governments, businesses, investors and researchers can work together to ensure that resources can be allocated where they can be most effective.
It is my hope that this year’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) will be remembered as a platform through which we helped forge this collective will – with regard to the green recovery and to climate action. The sustainability week has for more than a decade now been one of the world's most recognised gatherings of its kind. This year, with ADSW being held virtually, the event aims to bring together more of the world’s most influential experts and leaders in sustainability and climate action than ever before.
We’re building on solid momentum. Between 2015 and 2020, solar and wind capacity around the world more than doubled – from less than 700GW to more than 1,400GW. By early 2020 renewable sources were accounting for 28 per cent of global energy generation. At the same time US President-elect Joe Biden, through his initiative Build Back Better, is putting sustainable infrastructure investment and clean energy transition at the top of his agenda. We had the honour of hosting Mr Biden at Masdar City, when he visited the UAE in 2016 and he expressed a keenness to enhance co-operation between the US and the UAE in clean energy.
For over a decade now, the UAE and Masdar have played a leading role in supporting climate action, both here and abroad.
At Masdar City, for example, we have created a sustainability ecosystem, which is home to more than 900 innovative enterprises from around the world and that allows new ideas to thrive. With partners including Taqa and EDF Renewables, we are proud to be part of the 2 gigawatts Al Dhafra solar project – a testament to the UAE’s commitment to clean energy.
This commitment was further reinforced recently, at the end of 2020, with the UAE’s leadership announcing we would reduce our carbon emissions by 23.5 per cent by 2030, in line with our commitment to the Paris Agreement. This translates into absolute emission reduction of about 70 million tonnes and will be achieved through: more clean energy capacity, as well as boosting energy efficiency, increasing carbon capture, promoting sustainable agriculture and implementing environment-friendly waste management.
In the UAE, our clean power capacity – including solar and nuclear – is set to meet the target of 14GW by 2030, increasing from just over 100 megawatts in 2015 and 2.4GW in 2020. Masdar pledged in 2019 to double the capacity of our generation portfolio, then at 4GW, within five years. In fact, we exceeded that target in 2020. Our portfolio, including operational projects and those under delivery, has a capacity of more than 10GW, displacing some 16 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year.
Any green recovery that is committed to mitigating climate change will require the highest levels of collaboration and partnership between countries, businesses, and societies – and here, too, we see opportunities in 2021. When it comes to technology, we must invest more into the potential energy sources of the future, such as green hydrogen, as well as find more efficient battery and storage solutions, develop smart grids and introduce mobility infrastructure such as charging stations.
The historic Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE will bring about a new era of co-operation and co-investment in clean energy, among other opportunities. And at the end of this year, we at Masdar will be part of the UAE’s delegation to the UN climate talks, COP26, where progress must be made on drawing a roadmap to achieving the UN Sustainability Goals.
In 2021, the stakes may never have been higher, but the opportunities have never been greater.
Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi is the chief executive of Masdar