Five questions for His Excellency Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment of the UAE

Five questions for His Excellency Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment of the UAE

 

His Excellency Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi has been Minister of Climate Change and Environment of the United Arab Emirates since 2016. In this role, he oversees the Ministry’s mission of spearheading the UAE’s drive to mitigate and adapt to the impact of climate change, and protect the country’s unique ecosystems through developing and implementing effective measures, policies and initiatives.

 

  1. In the current situation. Dr. Al Zeyoudi, what do you consider to be the greatest tasks humanity has to face with regard to the current challenges?

 The immediate task ahead of us is undoubtedly defeating the deadly coronavirus. However, as tragic as the past few months have been, they have brought some unexpected results related to another major threat that was dominating the headlines long before Covid-19 took center stage – climate change. Due to an overall reduction in industrial production and traffic, biodiversity is thriving, and countries around the world are reporting considerable improvements in air quality. In the UAE, we recorded a 30 percent drop in nitrogen dioxide (NO2), one of the major air pollutants, between February and April 2020.

Now that we have started resuming our lives that we put on hold, and rebuilding our economies, the key is not to go back to business as usual and undo all the progress that has happened. Instead, we must use this opportunity to increase our climate ambitions.

So to sum it up, the most pressing challenges facing humankind at present are related to health, climate, and economy. To address all three efficiently, we must realize they are interconnected. If we improve one of these areas at the expense of the others, we might achieve success in the short term, however, the results will never be sustainable. On the other hand, if we work on one area while keeping the existing synergy in mind, it will automatically boost the other two areas.

 

  1. Your Ministry stands for “Environmental pioneering for sustainable development”. What are the priorities of the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment with regard to innovative technologies to combat climate change, especially when it comes to reducing COemissions?

 Innovative and clean technologies are crucial tools in our fight against climate change. In this context, I would like to speak from the perspective of the UAE and not just the Ministry.

Our no. 1 priority are renewable energy technologies, as they hold the solution to many of the challenges the world is facing right now, such as climate change, air pollution, and economic slowdown. In addition to its obvious environmental benefits, investing in renewable energy would deliver global GDP gains of US$98 trillion, and increase the number of jobs in the sector four times to 42 million by 2050.

The UAE has long been committed to helping advance the deployment of renewables across the globe in line with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To date, we have invested in renewable energy projects across 70 countries that have a total value of over US$16 billion. We are also a major donor, having allocated close to US$1 billion in grants and soft loans for renewables ventures. In addition, we have provided technical expertise and project assistance through Masdar, the UAE’s flagship energy company.

Notable examples of our initiatives include the IRENA/ADFD Project Facility. Through a partnership with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) has earmarked US$350 million in concessional loans for renewable energy projects in developing countries. This was the UAE’s first foray into development assistance in the field of renewable energy, and represents one of the larger bilateral investments in the sector. The scheme is currently in its seventh cycle, having offered support to 32 projects to date.

Furthermore, we launched the landmark US$50 million UAE-Pacific Partnership Fund in 2013 that aims to address the challenges posed by the Pacific region’s energy costs, which are among the highest in the world. Projects in 11 countries have been completed, including Kiribati, Fiji,Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu in Cycle 1, and Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) in Cycle 2. These include 10 solar photovoltaic (PV) projects and one wind farm with a total capacity exceeding 6.5 MW. Many were the first utility-scale renewable energy facilities in the respective countries. The wind project is unique, as it is features a customized technology that can fold the wind turbine within one hour to protect it during cyclones and heavy storms. To underpin our efforts and ensure their sustainability, we initiated the Pacific Renewable Energy Integration Training Programme in 2017 that focused on local capacity-building in the field of renewables.

In the same year, we established the US$50 million Caribbean Renewable Energy Fund that seeks to deploy renewable energy solutions in 16 Caribbean island countries. In 2019, the Fund inaugurated its first three ventures in the Bahamas, Barbados, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, aimed at installing a total of 1.45 MW of solar PV power capacity. Other projects are currently under development. The facilities, often equipped with battery storage, seek to significantly reduce energy costs in the region and improve resilience to natural disasters – a need underscored by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Building on the success of our programs, we have joined IRENA’s SIDS Lighthouses initiative that aspires to accelerate the adoption of renewables in small island developing countries.

In addition to improving electricity access for the populations of the beneficiary countries and meeting a large part of their energy needs, the projects we have helped bring to life created job opportunities, supported the development of local communities and economies, and cut down on pollution. They also enhanced climate change resilience of the countries and reduced their dependence on imported fossil fuels, which is an especially important point during the current pandemic that has negatively affected global trade.

On the home front, we increased our renewable energy capacity from a mere 10 MW in 2009 to 1,800 MW today, with an additional 6,500 MW either under development or planned until 2030.

Our large-scale renewable energy projects include the 5 GW Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, set to be fully operational in 2030, and the 1 GW Noor Abu Dhabi – at present the world’s largest single-site solar power plant with 3.2 million solar panels that started commercial operations in June 2019.

And our country is about to become home to a new solar power plant with the capacity of 2 GW. In April 2020, the winning bid for the project broke yet another world record for the lowest solar power generation cost at 1.35 US cents per kilowatt-hour.

These projects will help us achieve the ambitious clean energy targets that we have set for ourselves – 27 percent of our energy mix by 2021 and 50 percent by 2050.

Another innovative climate-friendly technology we have adopted is carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration (CCUS). Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) operates Al Reyadah, the first commercial-scale CCUS facility in the MENA region and one of only 19 large-scale CCS/CCUS ventures in operation worldwide, according to the Global CCS Institute. Al Reyadah collects 0.8 million tons of CO2 per year from Emirates Steel factory for processing, transportation, and injection into ADNOC oil fields for enhanced oil recovery (EOR). ADNOC plans to expand its CCUS capacity sixfold by 2030 to capture as much CO2 annually as five million acres of forest, marking one of the world’s largest investments in this technology.

We are also working on waste-to-energy projects that contribute to responsible waste management while generating environment-friendly energy, implementing energy efficiency technologies, and exploring hydrogen as a source of energy, which looks very promising.

In addition, we seek to drive grassroots innovation in tackling climate challenges. A prime example is the annual Zayed Sustainability Prize, which celebrates innovative, impactful, and inspirational ideas that make this world a better place. Named after the founding father of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who laid the foundations for the country’s sustainable development, the competition features five categories – Health, Food, Energy, Water, and Global High Schools. Since the inception of the initiative in 2008, the sustainability solutions of the 86 winners have had a direct or indirect positive impact on around 335 million people across the globe.

At the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, we are particularly proud of our Climate Innovations Exchange (CLIX) that runs every year as part of the World Future Energy Summit during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. Launched in 2018, the unique global marketplace connects startups with investors to develop groundbreaking climate solutions with the goal of disrupting the sustainability landscape worldwide.

 

  1. A look back at the 11th Petersberg Climate Dialogue: UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the crisis an opportunity to build a new, healthy world. In the middle of the crisis, you have participated in the 11th Petersberg Climate Dialogue on 27 and 28 April, an international platform that drives the conversation about the preservation of ecosystems. Dr. Al Zeyoudi, which measures are now essential to re-launch the economy while achieving sustainable development goals at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic?

 This year’s Petersberg Climate Dialogue that took place as a video conference highlighted the importance of factoring in climate mitigation and adaptation in the post-Covid-19 recovery plans. We must realize that climate change won’t wait just because we have a more immediate threat to face in the form of the pandemic. The need of the hour is aligning economic stimuli and policies with our climate goals. This will allow us to channel as many resources as possible towards implementing long-term climate strategies and executing sustainable development plans. Governments need to enable companies to unleash their green potential. They can do this through regulations, economic incentives and disincentives that guide markets, and ambitious policies that offer assurance for investors.

A key point to raise in this context is Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – pledges of individual countries to reduce their carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement that play a crucial role in fighting climate change worldwide. 2020 is the year when countries of the world are reviewing their NDCs. I would like to call on our fellow signatories not to use the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to fall behind, but to view the current situation as an opportunity to step up their commitments.

 

  1. Regarding international strategies and alliances: Which partnerships are of particular importance to you in combating climate change?

We are part of multiple climate change alliances, however, it wouldn’t be right to mention just a few of them. Instead, I would like to emphasize the overall significance of multilateralism in climate action. Just like the world joined forces to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, it must stand united against climate change. International organizations such as the UN and its Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and IRENA are instrumental in bringing countries together to advance climate action. And of course, we must not forget the role of the private sector, civil society, and youth in this regard. At the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting that set the groundwork for the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 in New York, António Guterres said: “We are in a battle for our lives.“ And it’s a battle we can win, but only if everyone does their part.

 

  1. Personally: You are a visionary, please give us your personal advice and a message for the future.

My advice is not to be daunted by the task ahead. Our action should be driven by hope, not despair or fear. Fear is not going to help us usher in the long-term, sustainable change that we require to move the needle on climate change. What we need is rational hope for a better future, a future with healthier environment, clean air, abundant energy, a stable economy, and with resources available to all.

I wish for our planet to be healthy and green, and a home to people who live in harmony with nature and have adopted sustainability as a way of life. I wish for humankind to achieve long-term prosperity while preserving the environment for the next generations. I want to see governments, organizations, companies, educational institutions, and individuals from all walks of life come together to build a brighter future for the Earth and everyone on it.

 

Nina Anne Pahnke