Sustainability will top the agenda next week, and with good reason

Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week is a chance to maintain a progressive trajectory

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, March 16, 2016:     General view of Shams1 solar power plant in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi south of Madinat Zayed on March 16, 2016. Christopher Pike / The National

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Reporter: LeAnne Graves
Section: Business

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Delegates from more than 170 countries will congregate in Abu Dhabi on Saturday as the Middle East’s largest sustainability conference gets underway. The 2018 session of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) will again accommodate crucial discussion on economic, social and environmental sustainability across the globe. Energy transformation will top this year’s agenda, with particular emphasis on urbanisation, mobility and digitisation.

Leaders of nations, business and science will be present at the event that last year welcomed 38,000 attendees and more than 800 companies, interacting in 101 official languages. The eighth session of the International Renewable Energy Agency assembly will begin on Saturday. The World Future Energy Summit will open on Monday. The International Water Summit starts on Tuesday. ADSW 2018 will have particular resonance as it falls on the 100-year anniversary of the birth of the UAE's founding father, Sheikh Zayed. It also marks a decade since the establishment of the Zayed Future Energy Prize, which has rewarded 57 global pioneers of sustainability thus far, including former US vice president Al Gore in 2015. Dedicated youth panels this year demonstrate clear long-term intent.

Efforts by some to lessen this country's record on climate change overlook the strides it has made. The UAE was the first country in the region to establish targets for renewable energy. Thereafter, the Vision 2021 plan has put environmental and infrastructure sustainability at the heart of the national agenda. The government has expressed a need to generate 27 per cent of the country's energy from clean sources and reduce oil consumption to 5 tonnes per capita by 2021. The Barakah nuclear power plant near Abu Dhabi – the UAE's first – should be fully operational in 2020, while the Shams-1 solar plant and the Sir Bani Yas wind farm –which boasts the world's largest wind turbine – are already active. Masdar, which will host the ADSW 2018, has made huge investments in offshore wind farms.

Nevertheless, there is still work to be done. Currently the UAE sits in 40th place in the Energy Trilemma Index, which ranks countries according to sustainable energy capacity. Given this country's swift growth, and the unrest that so often emerges from resource scarcity, the stakes could not be higher. The UAE should continue to put sustainability at the heart of its transition to a post-oil economy, for the sake of its citizens and the region. And the invaluable dialogue that will characterise next week's ADSW should go a long way towards ensuring its progressive trajectory is maintained.