Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa has an eye on the future - and his vision extends for centuries to come.
The 30-year-old is chairman of the Alliances for Global Sustainability (AGS), and it is a responsibility he takes seriously.
Sheikh Zayed is an avid patron of the arts, a helicopter pilot and a philanthropist. But in recent years, he has turned his attention to sustainable development for his generation of Emiratis and those to come. He views it as the key to the future.
“One of the challenges we are committed to the short-termism of everything. We’re here in the present state and as long as things are going well, we’ll continue to look at it from that aspect, but if that is the case we are not quite grasping what we need to do and what we owe future generations,” he said at an address during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.
The stark predictions made in a major report by the UN last year lend credence to his approach.
The report contends that human-induced climate change could make summers in the Middle East “uninhabitable” and subject residents to days of intense sandstorms.
“This is our legacy at the end of the day. And we don’t want people in a century or two to come back and judge us on the fact that we were well aware of where everything was headed and we hadn’t achieved the required steps to prevent it,” he said.
Sheikh Zayed’s organisation is looking to contribute to the fight.
Projects the alliance is looking to enact contribute to national sustainability goals and the country’s pledges to the Paris Agreement, which the UAE along with 195 countries signed to reduce global warming to less than 2 degrees by 2050.
But bigger than that, Sheikh Zayed wants to take bold actions and throw his weight behind projects that will tackle climate change head-on.
Recycling is among the highest priorities. AGS has developed a much-needed model to convert plastic bottles, by and large one of the worst polluters of the environment today, to food-grade PET (polyethylene terephthalate) pellets.
After converting the pellets, they can then be heated and molded to serve any purpose industrial grade PET would be used for.
Sheikh Zayed views plastic pollution as one of the key trouble areas, as recent reports show the UAE is using 11 billion plastic bags a year and 450 plastic bottles per capita.
The project can help progress the UAE’s plans to redirect 75 per cent of its waste to landfills by 2030 and reduce plastic pollution impact on our oceans. The UN has said that pieces of plastic in the ocean will outnumber fish by 2050, and AGS is looking to curb that prospect.
Projects like this, he says, allow for the immediate action needed to help save the planet. His group have also identified energy savings in buildings as key step towards the UAE’s sustainable vision.
The building sector is responsible for 30 per cent of energy use globally, and the number of buildings is expected to grow by 230 billion square meters in the next 60 years.
“At AGS, we are working with solar energy leaders to equip buildings with more sustainable energy sources. Not only do we know what to do but we have the capabilities to make buildings more efficient,” he said.
In its essence, the platform looks to connect businesses and sustainability experts to help organisations make pledges or implement projects to contribute to climate change mitigation.
“The only way things work is if everyone is on board, when you look at the Paris Agreement, you find the entire planet on board.”
Sheikh Zayed’s overall aim through the project and through his philanthropy is to create a future whereby renewable energy and sustainability remain at the heart of development.
But ultimately, Sheikh Zayed, in much of the same way his great-grandfather the the late Sheikh Zayed and his grandfather President Khalifa ruled the country, believes the power of the UAE is in its people.
“Each individual has the ability to do something life transforming for future generations to come, we need to always keep that aspect in our minds.”