After almost five years of negotiating, posturing and making adjustments to "Nationally Determined Contributions" goals, the time for implementation and action on climate must be now. This is the only way for us to reach the Paris Agreement’s headline goal of limiting global warming to below 2°C compared with pre-industrial levels.
We have arrived at a once-in-a-multi-generational crossroads. Unlike most metaphorical junctions, we have a good idea of what we can expect from whichever track we choose to travel. Put simply, future economic stability and social mobility will stem from the path laid out by the global energy transition and not from an extension of the old energy systems.
Ten years out from both the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the headline goal of the Paris accord of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent, there is suddenly renewed wind in our sails and gathering momentum, with the US officially re-joining the accord last month.
It is difficult to overstate the significance of the Biden administration’s decision to re-join Paris. Having the world’s second-biggest energy producer as an integral part of the accord is more than a symbolic commitment to making energy greener and cleaner. It sends a signal to the rest of the international community that we are all well and truly in this together. And, as businesses and markets have demonstrated over the years, momentum and sentiment are critical to moving industries in the right direction.
As John Kerry, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, said on the eve of America’s re-joining, this year is the “last, best hope we have” of getting the world back on track and avoiding disastrous, irreversible climate damage. This year’s UN Climate Change Conference, known as "Cop26", is scheduled to take place in Glasgow in November. It has become the “North Star” for the renewable energy international community, alongside many other key stakeholders in the climate change dialogue, as we prepare for the net zero emissions race that start this year and run across the decade.
The UAE is keenly aligned with the US’s renewed stance on climate change and the global energy transition. Dr Sultan Al Jaber, the UAE’s Special Envoy for Climate Change and Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, met Mr Kerry virtually in February to outline how the two countries will work closer than ever in the run up to, and beyond, Cop26 to combat climate change together, while optimising the significant opportunities for growth, diversification and job creation in both countries.
In this context, Cop26 might prove to be the most significant meeting of the climate change conference to date, as it seeks to turn words into actions. This is also reflective of the kind of positive, impactful changes being made by the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (Irena) member states.
Despite some of the sceptical rhetoric in circulation since the Paris Agreement was officially signed in November 2016, it has been encouraging to see so many Irena member states, both developed and developing, double down in their commitments to achieving a low carbon pathway. And now that the discourse is more unified, and back on track, there should be nothing stopping us from achieving our goals.
Indeed, with a greater sense of urgency and understanding of the moment each year, Irena’s member states have updated their climate pledges to show a greater recognition that renewables are a central solution and feasible opportunity to diversify and sustain our economies.
While there has been resistance, perhaps even some pushback, in previous years, the scepticism has all but faded entirely as the evidence becomes clearer every day: renewables will offer the jobs, sustainability and stability we desperately need as we build back from the coronavirus pandemic.
Renewable energy technologies create jobs up and down the supply chain. They will spur wide-reaching, sustainable socioeconomic development. Indeed, according to Irena’s ‘2019 Renewable Energy and Jobs’ report, renewables accounted for an estimated 11.5 million jobs worldwide that year – up from 11 million the previous year.
What’s more, accelerated uptake of renewables could boost total energy jobs to 100 million by 2050. And jobs in renewables could reach 42 million by 2050, some 62 per cent more than under current plans, the latest data from the report issued last September suggests.
This is not an emotive argument. It is a fact-driven, scientific approach to carving out the guiding principles of a better future. Nowhere has this case been championed with greater vigour than here in the UAE, where the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment has consolidated the Emirates’ status as a key player in global efforts to collectively combat climate change through establishing a comprehensive local mitigation and adaptation framework, based on the scientific sense of the global energy transition.
This brings me back to the reason for Irena’s establishment, which was to find ways to best communicate the benefits of the global energy transition to an international community comprised of a wide variety of stakeholders. We discovered that we are more effective when we focus on the potential benefits of what we do. This is because everyone – policymakers, businesses and citizens – responds better to positive potential than to divisive rhetoric and fears.
I truly believe that the 2020s will be the decade in which we make a sustainable future not only possible but realised.
Dr Nawal Al-Hosany is a permanent representative of the UAE to the International Renewable Energy Agency