‘The worst thing you can do with oil is burn it’, Cop22 summit is told

Oil should be used for its chemical components rather than being burned, Professor Duncan Cameron said at Cop22 in Morocco.

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MARRAKECH // As the world embraces renewable energy, the UAE and the GCC should not stop producing oil, academics at the United Nations conference on climate change say.

Instead, oil should be used for its chemical components as burning it is waste of its potential.

During the 22nd conference of the parties signed up to the UN’s framework convention on climate change (Cop22) academics from the University of Sheffield in England offered their perspectives on the GCC’s food and water security problem.

Professor Duncan Cameron, professor of plant and soil biology at the university, said: “Oil is a phenomenal chemical resource, this is where the environmental movement has got it wrong.

”It’s the chemical basis for the modern world, which is why it’s such a waste. It’s absolutely criminal that we burn oil.

“For feedstock, for plastics, for pretty much every chemical process that gives us our current modern standard of living, it is derived from oil. So why the hell would we burn it and create two problems – releasing CO2 and diminishing the resource that we rely on for the majority of our modern chemistry?” he said.

Prof Cameron and colleague Prof Tony Ryan are conducting research into using petrochemicals to create a plastic material that shares the properties of soil.

They have also been working on a project that uses petrochemicals as the building material for greenhouses, using its properties to shade plants from the intense summer sun. By using solar energy, they are able to turn plastics that were used in greenhouse building to other uses.

Less than two per cent of Gulf region’s land is arable. The result is that the UAE is almost entirely reliant on other countries to feed its population, importing approximately 90 per cent of its food.

The solution to growing produce in the desert involves greenhouses and other artificial environments. The problem, they said, was that keeping greenhouses cool in desert heat is energy intensive.

“The Gulf has an excess of sunshine, and we need to learn to use the sunshine to grow food,” said Prof Ryan, the founding director of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures.

“Once we can do that, using oil for building and the Sun for energy, we begin unlocking technologies that allow for sustainable food production.”

Prof Ryan said water demand could be met by making sure that desalination was powered by solar energy, once the process was efficient enough.

This would allow oil to be used elsewhere.

Prof Cameron said: “We’re not saying that the Gulf can ever be self sufficient, it’s too hot, too dry, too sandy. As it’s only 2 per cent arable, the Gulf will continue to need to import food.

“But if we can make it rain with solar energy, we can be a lot more efficient.”

nalwasmi@thenational.ae