The UAE strives for a leadership role in climate change

The Green Fund, intended to improve clean energy markets globally and help the poorest countries to adapt to climate change, is important to the UAE for several reasons.

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At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun this month, the 192 participating nations struck a deal that will shape international policy on climate change for years to come. After two weeks of rigorous negotiation and a commendable effort by the Mexican government, the Cancun Agreements were adopted.

Last year's Copenhagen Accord introduced a wide range of new ideas, including pledges to cut emissions by major emitters and a promise of $100 billion (Dh367 billion) per year for developing countries within the next decade. Although it was endorsed by nearly 140 countries, including the UAE, it was not formally accepted as a UN agreement. The Cancun Agreements rectify this by providing more detail and clarity. For instance, where the Copenhagen Accord committed to large-scale finance for developing countries, the Cancun Agreements set the terms of reference for a new "Green Fund" - the multilateral mechanism that will administer some of this funding.

But more importantly, the Cancun Agreements were formally adopted under the United Nations. In the coming year, the UN can begin implementing what was agreed to this month in Mexico.

Much of Cancun's success came from the ability of countries to recognise that certain proposals were not going to find consensus. For instance, the question of whether the Kyoto Protocol will be extended into a second commitment period was postponed rather than resolved. Countries like Japan and certain European nations were reluctant to commit to an agreement without knowing that major emitters such as China and the US would also undertake binding commitments.

Cancun took us part of the way towards the full legal treaty that most countries want to see. Next year's meeting in Durban, South Africa, will hopefully take us a step further.

Further, there were formally ratified pledges made by developed and developing countries to cut emissions. Cancun set rules for how progress against those pledges will be transparently reported and assessed over time so that confidence can be enhanced.

There was also a provisional decision to support carbon capture and storage (CCS) - an innovative technique that stores carbon dioxide underground - with credits under an international system called the Clean Development Mechanism for developing countries. As a fossil fuel producer, the UAE relies on this vital technology to advance.

The Green Fund, intended to improve clean energy markets globally and help the poorest countries to adapt to climate change, is important to the UAE for several reasons. To begin with, the deal offers direct economic opportunities for the UAE. The establishment of the fund and a mechanism for technology transfer will enhance international cooperation on clean energy and facilitate access to cutting edge technologies and global finance for our various projects and low carbon initiatives.

The provisional decision to embrace carbon capture and storage under international climate finance will help our efforts to build the national CCS network that Masdar and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company are already working on.

We can all agree that climate change is a threat that the global community shares. Rising temperatures and sea levels will have a major impact on our region, and it is in our interest to contribute to finding solutions. Our country is already gaining global visibility as a sustainability champion with an active role in international climate negotiations such as Cancun.

The global shift to a cleaner and more sustainable economy is a major opportunity for innovation, economic growth, job creation and improved human welfare. The UAE aims to be at the heart of this clean energy revolution.

This drive began with the adoption of a diversified energy mix. We launched a large scale, comprehensive and progressive renewable energy initiative (Masdar), embarked on a major nuclear energy programme (Emirates Nuclear Energy Company), and we are developing carbon capture and storage technology in Abu Dhabi. At the same time, we are improving energy efficiency standards in our buildings, investing in public transport and supporting public awareness campaigns to inform our society about how we can reduce emissions.

We have also added a strong and visible presence in the international dialogue. The UAE is the home of the new International Renewable Energy Agency; we are a founding member of the Clean Energy Ministerial process, which we will host in April of 2011; we have established the World future Energy summit, the premier platform for renewable energy cooperation, investment and partnership; and we are engaging in the UN climate process in a practical manner.

Our delegation, headed for the first time by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, had a major impact in the outcomes of Cancun. Many of the decisions described above, including technology transfer and carbon capture and storage, had substantial contributions from the UAE team. Additionally, the UAE worked with and supported the Mexican presidency of the summit throughout the year leading up to the negotiations.

All these factors mean that our international partners will continue to look to the UAE as an active contributor. The future lies in a world that limits emissions and fosters clean energy markets that complement clean fossil fuels. We fully intend to be at the heart of that transformation.

Sultan Al Jaber is the chief executive of Masdar and UAE special envoy for energy and climate change