UAE is leading the way in tackling climate change, says UN Secretary General
Mr Ban, who was in the capital for Abu Dhabi Ascent, a high-level meeting to push world leaders to act at September's climate change summit, said individuals also needed to step up to protect the environment.
"Abu Dhabi Ascent is already a great success in the sense that it has generated a momentum, a momentum that has harnessed a political and social and moral power to reduce climate emissions and greenhouse gas emissions, and also to strengthen our resilience to climate impact."
Mr Ban convened a gathering of about 100 ministers and leaders, including Mexico's former president Felipe Calderon, Britain's former prime minister Tony Blair and the former US vice president Al Gore.
He said it took place at a "critical time" and was a milestone before heads of state gathered in New York for the climate summit.
"People are now discussing how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from key areas . like energy, cities, transport, buildings and agriculture. All these areas are where we really need the most of our efforts. The UAE is a regional power, popularising actions on the ground."
Mr Ban said initiatives such as Masdar City and Shams 1, the largest concentrated solar power plant in the world, offered a beacon of hope for climate change.
"Last time I was here I visited Masdar City and I was very impressed by this innovative idea. It's one that really can bring answers to strengthen sustainable energy," he said.
The UN chief said the objectives of Irena, the International Renewable Energy Agency, which has its HQ in Abu Dhabi, were in line with his "sustainable energy for all" initiative, which he launched in 2011.
"This has three goals: by 2030 we have to provide universal access to electricity to all the people on the planet. That's ambitious but doable. Second is to obtain renewable energy, and thirdly, double the energy efficiency rate.
"Irena has become very important for international validation on renewable energy. I'm sure that with Irena and the full political support by the UAE government and member states this will be met."
The UN head called on individuals to follow his example and recalled how as a boy in South Korea he relied on candlelight to study. He said more than 1.4 billion people in the world still had no electricity and urged individuals to contribute.
"It's not only governments who can save energy, who can participate in the sustainable energy initiative. It's also individuals. By changing their behaviour, they can really contribute to this United Nations initiative.
"I myself have been leading by example. When I was a young boy, there was no electricity in Korea. Until I became a freshman in college, I had to study with the help of small kerosene lamps. Whenever there was an examination, I had to buy candles. I studied under candlelight."
World leaders failed to reach an agreement on climate change in Copenhagen in 2009 and before that in Kyoto in 1997. Despite the setbacks, Mr Ban is confident that heads of state will sign a binding and universal agreement that will limit global warming to 2°C at the 2015 conference in Paris.
"As for the prospect of climate deals by next year, I think momentum has been highly generated. There's a change in the air and people know that this is time to take action. I'm optimistic."
On Syria, Mr Ban said the UN was pushing for a political solution.
"We are working very hard with the political influence of Russia and United States and also we are discussing this matter with the regional powers like the League of Arab States. I met secretary general Nabil Elaraby of League of Arab States in Abu Dhabi to discuss how we can work together with Arab partners."
He said that while the UAE's contribution of US$60 million in humanitarian aid in January was generous, the UN was looking for "continuing support" for the 2.7 million Syrian refugees.
"The number of people the UN has to take care of . is extraordinary. More than half the population of Syria is affected now. Almost 50 per cent of schools, half of hospitals and facilities have been destroyed.
"It creates a huge humanitarian crisis on top of a political crisis. We've been really trying hard but it has not been enough."
The UN chief said inspectors had destroyed 93 per cent of chemical weapons in Syria and would destroy the rest by the end of June.
Mohammed Al Otaiba is The National's Editor-in-Chief
Published: May 5, 2014 04:00 AM