It’s not just oil and gas that are exercising Middle East minds these days. Abu Dhabi is determined to be in the vanguard of renewable energy action as the emirate demonstrated during January’s World Future Energy Summit. Russell McCulley was there.
An array of world leaders, policy makers and energy officials gathered in Abu Dhabi to debate the response to global climate change and to rehash the failures, and promise, of last December’s UN Summit in Copenhagen.
The failure of industrialized and developing nations to reach a legally binding accord on emissions should not deter countries from seeking consensus in future meetings or curtail energy efficiency or the development of alternative sources, World Future Energy Summit 2010 delegates were told.
The event, the first post-Copenhagen international gathering on the topic, was hosted by the emirate’s sustainable energy company Masdar.
UK secretary of state for energy and climate change Ed Miliband fell into the glass-half-full camp, saying the Copenhagen talks had helped put the carbon reduction wheels in motion. ‘It is true of many historic movements that they don’t do what they set out to do at the outset,’ he said.
Miliband noted that not only would policy determine the course of events. ‘Business has been an important voice’ in the climate change agenda, he said, because many companies recognize the movement’s inherent opportunities.
President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives – where the prospect of rising sea levels is not just a matter of adaptation, but an existential crisis – said the Copenhagen talks represented ‘important steps forward’ but that the international community would be challenged over the coming two years to strengthen the accord.
Unlike arms negotiations or trade agreements, Nasheed said, the world does not have the luxury of time to reach consensus on carbon reduction.
‘We cannot cut a deal with Mother Nature.’
Several speakers at the summit emphasized the need for developed nations to commit more funds toward bringing enough scale to alternative energies, such as solar, to help bring down the cost of technologies and to pledge more for sharing those technologies with poor nations.
Ghana’s environment, science and technology minister, Hanny Sherry Ayittey, called technology transfer ‘a great challenge’. The discovery and production of hydrocarbons in her country, she said, ‘won’t change our need for seeking other forms of energy’.
The Netherlands’ economic affairs minister, Maria van der Hoeven, acknowledged that fossil fuels would continue to be the main source of energy in coming decades even if ambitious goals to cut emissions are adhered to.
‘I think we have to see that our use of fossil fuel is as clean as possible,’ van der Hoeven said. ‘We have to redesign our processes.’
The task of the industrialized nations in the year ahead, said Miliband, is to come up with ‘sufficiently tough targets’ for carbon reduction and to make efforts to gain the trust of developing countries.
‘It’s got to be a prosperity message’ that developed nations bring to those whose energy use and emissions are on the upswing, rather than a punitive one, he said. ‘But it’s got to be a low-carbon prosperity message.’
With global energy consumption expected to double over the next 40 years, Jennifer Holmgren, renewable energy & chemicals VP at Honeywell subsidiary UOP, told the World Future Energy Summit ‘it is hard to imagine how we will get there from here unless alternative fuels become an important part of that future’.
Future fuels must be ‘drop-in replacements,’ she said. ‘We cannot afford to invest in recreating the infrastructure. Instead, we should focus our resources on creating the alternative fuels.’
Abu Dhabi’s emerging role as a hub for renewable energy was clearly highlighted by the summit and its parallel activities. Already home to the International Renewable Energy Agency, the emirate has set a goal of receiving 7% of its energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020 according to John Perkins, provost of the Masdar Institute.
This graduate and research institution, affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is part of the sprawling complex taking shape on Abu Dhabi’s outskirts and its student numbers will rise to 600 when Masdar City – given advance billing as ‘the world’s first carbon-neutral, waste-free city – is completed in 2016.
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