Seven days that shook the energy world

During a week of discussions, world leaders decried the Copenhagen summit and arrived at a series of wide-ranging advances in energy.

ABU DHABI // It was seven days of innovation, revelation and dire warnings of what would befall the planet if world leaders failed to act quickly to curb climate change. The third World Future Energy Summit opened on Monday with harsh words for the "dramatic failure" of the climate change talks in Copenhagen in December.

One after the other, world leaders addressing the opening session of the Abu Dhabi summit criticised the international conference for the lack of ambition it had shown. A speech by Mohamed Nasheed, the president of the Maldives, summed up the mood. The Copenhagen accord, he said, would not prevent "catastrophic climate change. If we do not act now, our coral reefs and tropical forest will die. Deserts will become unbearable to live in and low-lying countries such as the Maldives will disappear under the sea".

But the summit has been far from all doom and gloom. In addition to a comprehensive programme of speeches, seminars and round-table discussions, much of the real work of the summit has been achieved out of the limelight, as representatives of the more than 600 exhibitors at the exhibition that has accompanied the summit, exchanged innovative ideas and business opportunities with each other, delegates and other visitors.

Sectors most represented at the exhibition included energy, solar, wind, environment, green building and water. "We have secured some solid business leads which we are confident will develop after the show," said Mauricio Rojas La Rotta, a marketing representative of Solar Power Group. "The event is becoming a reference point in the Middle East region." A sales spokesman for Tenesol, part of the Total and EDF group, said the event "continues to improve, and Abu Dhabi is really the place to do business".

Staging the summit is part of Abu Dhabi's determined drive not only to diversify its economy away from reliance on fossil fuels, but also to take the initiative in the renewable energy sector, by establishing itself as a centre of innovation. In this, according to Ed Miliband, the UK's secretary of state for energy and climate change, who addressed the summit on the first day, it had succeeded. "I think this is the centre of the clean energy revolution that is going on around the world," he said.

Abu Dhabi's initiative has been welcomed as timely. "Renewables are of course a big part of the current mix," said Richard Jones, the deputy executive director of the International Energy Agency, "but they are going to be an even bigger part in the future". One of the highlights of the week came on Monday was the first meeting of the International Renewable Energy Agency in its new home, Abu Dhabi, chosen last year in the teeth of competition from European capitals as a vote of confidence in the emirate's new green direction.

The 139 signatory nations were meeting to fix the organisation's budget and programme for the year ahead, but the big news that emerged was that Saudi Arabia, the world's leading oil producer and a long-standing sceptic of climate change, was to join Irena; what's more, it was also announced that China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, was also considering joining. To that end, a large Chinese delegation spent much of the week in the city.

"Collectively we stand at a historical threshold in the lifespan of Irena," Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, told the Irena delegates. "This journey to create an agency of substance and of meaningful impact is a truly special one that will culminate with issues of renewable energy and climate change taking their rightful place on the centre stage of global affairs." Other concrete news emerged during the week. On the eve of the summit, Masdar unveiled plans for an exciting new biofuels project that could end with aircraft being powered by fuel containing a product derived from the seeds of salicornia, a plant that thrives on the salt plains of Abu Dhabi.

The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) announced plans for the first commercial-scale trial bringing together all the elements of a technology that could see vast quantities of the carbon dioxide that is currently released into the atmosphere from industrial processes injected into oil wells to create the pressure necessary to squeeze every bit of productivity out of hard-to-reach oil reserves.

An announcement on Wednesday showed that plans were also being laid to make sure that Abu Dhabi would be ready to exploit renewable energy sources when they came on stream; Masdar is to investigate the concept of "smart grids", a range of innovations in electricity transmission and management to make energy systems more efficient. vtodorova@thenational.ae jgornall@thenational.ae