Why sustainability is key to our future

Special Why sustainability is key to our future
The Zayed Sustainability Prize logo light-up event concludes the one-month campaign in five countries around the world with 10,000 solar lanterns donated to off-grid communities. (Supplied photo)
Updated 16 January 2019

Why sustainability is key to our future

Why sustainability is key to our future
  • Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week brings world leaders and delegates together to tackle the challenges that face us
  • A renewed push to act on the UN’s sustainability development goals is a key priority on this year’s agenda

DUBAI: Three years ago, the world came together to design a blueprint for a better and more sustainable future for all in the backdrop of a litany of depressing statistics. Climate change was on an accelerating course, 700 million people still lived in extreme poverty and conflicts in war-torn countries remained entrenched.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), established in January 2016 as part of the organization’s 2030 Agenda, were a set of 17 bold and transformative steps – a call for action by all countries to promote prosperity while protecting the planet.

It spawned several country-specific initiatives — such as Saudi Arabia’s broad-sweeping Vision 2030 and Abu Dhabi’s Vision 2021 — both of which have an integral component on energy sustainability and are closely aligned with the UN SDGs, as new commitments to interdependence, cooperation and fairer sustainable progress.

Today, three years after the ink dried on the UN’s 2030 Agenda, many global statistics remain as disheartening as ever. One in 10 people in developing regions are still living with their families on less than the international poverty line of US$1.90 a day. More than 815 million people remain hungry and an additional two billion people are expected to be undernourished by 2050, while almost a billion people have no electricity. Furthermore, without action, the world’s average surface temperature rise is likely to surpass 3°C this century.

As the annual Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) returns to the emirate this week, doubling down on those UN SDG’s — in particular, a push for better and more coordinated international action on climate change — has been earmarked as a key priority for this year’s agenda, as delegations from around the world, including Saudi Arabia, head to the UAE capital to discuss advancing the world’s sustainable development. 

Mohamed Jameel Al-Ramahi, chief executive officer of Masdar — the host of ADSW — said the 2019 summit, which is expected to attract more than 10 presidents and heads of states, 180 ministers and vice ministers, and 3,000 delegates and experts from around the world, will focus on six main pillars: water; the future of mobility; space; biotechnology; tech for good; and – crucially – energy and climate change. Youth and digitalization will also be a focus. 

“Sustainability is of critical importance to the world and… only by making a commitment together can we realize tangible progress in tackling climate change,” said Al-Ramahi. “We welcome the expanded pillars of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week as a means of attracting an even broader range of stakeholders to join the sustainability discussion and to innovate new approaches to addressing the challenges of climate change, resource scarcity and energy access.”

The focus on climate change (SDG 13) at ADSW will be a call to action for global leaders to get behind sustainability goals and turn the tide against climate change, under #WeAreCommitted, an online campaign which has brought together sheikhs, government ministers, ambassadors, business leaders and young innovators to share their commitments to sustainability.

According to economic analysis, sustainability-related challenges could save the global economy up to $30 trillion and help to prevent millions of people being displaced due to climate change. Yet according to the recent International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report “Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050,” renewable energy needs to be scaled up at least six times faster for the world to start meeting the goals set out in the agreement. 

In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned rising global temperatures are heading for 3°C above pre-industrial levels, far beyond the 1.5°C target. In its long-awaited special report on global warming, it provided a stark picture on the impact of temperatures rising even a half a degree; it would mean more heat waves for tens of millions of people, far greater species loss, increased water scarcity in some of the world’s most unstable regions and a total wipe-out of the world’s coral reefs.

Since the UN SDGs were established, GCC leaders in nations that are most likely affected by increasing average temperatures, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have been doing their part to push forward environmental programs and implement renewable energy projects that will reverse the impact climate change.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, led the way for renewable energy developments in 2018, with up to $7 billion worth of new tenders, according to an official from the International Renewable Energy Agency, while the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 aims to achieve the UN objectives by encouraging more investment in alternative energy. Specifically, the target for renewable energy has been set at 9.5 GigaWatts (GW) as the first stage, by the advent of 2023, and will include solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy and conversion of waste to energy. 

In the UAE, Vision 2021 and Vision 2030 aim to achieve a sustainable environment in terms of air quality, conserving water resources, more reliance on clean energy and implementing green development. Under plans to make the Emirates cleaner and greener, the UAE aims to reduce the carbon footprint of its power generation by 70 percent and to save Dh700 billion ($190 billion) over the next 30 years, according to Mohammad Al-Falasi, undersecretary of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Energy, at a preview ahead of ADSW. 

ADSW 2019, under the theme “Industry Convergence: Accelerating Sustainable Development,” aims to increase the number of environmental and energy-led projects and schemes at both an interregional and international level to address global sustainability challenges.

Delegations from countries across the GCC, the wider region and around the world will come together to set out new sustainable policies. Khalid Al-Falih, Saudi’s Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources, will head the Kingdom’s delegation to review future initiatives and projects to raise energy efficiency and develop new technologies to enhance sustainability in the Kingdom.

The Kingdom will also have an interactive pavilion at ADSW, which includes 21 sectors, offering lectures and panel discussions on energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions, Saudi Arabia’s initiatives to localize electricity and related services, investment in the Kingdom and the role of research and development for sustainability. The delegates aims to shed light on Saudi Arabia’s work on achieving the UN SDGs.

Speaking to Arab News, Marine Pouget, policy advisor for climate politics and civil society in the MENA region at Germanwatch, which aims to tackle climate change, said: “Saudi Arabia is a key player for the energy and ecological transitions” to a more sustainable world, as one of the most important oil countries.

“This region is extremely affected by climate change, because of its natural dry climate. If we don’t act now, there are risks for temperatures to rise above 5°C before 2060 in the entire region. 

“Desertification would be then the second step of climate change; after higher temperature and more droughts, the deserts of the region will expand, threatening human life because of the heat, but also for the fauna and flora of the region. Species will have to move to other regions or disappear and people will be too constrained to leave their homes. The impact of heat-related mortality will be higher, while there are also threats for agriculture; without water and with too high temperature, the food security of the region is not ensured. 

“The (GCC) needs to reduce emissions, work on energy transition with ambitious targets for renewables, establish climate laws and legislation, and work on adaptation to tackle desertification, water scarcity and heat waves.”

Adnan Z. Amin, director general of the IRENA, said ADSW has become the “premier meeting point for those invested in the transition to a sustainable world.”

“The reason it is so important today… is that over the over past couple of years our attention has been focused on game-changing events. The first is climate change.”

Amin said that the world essentially has little more than a decade to get climate change “under control,” otherwise the results will be “catastrophic.” 

Running until Saturday, ADSW will also explore how digitalization and technology are converging to drive economic growth and will feature a series of events including the World Future Energy Summit, Women in Sustainability, Environment and Renewable Energy (Wiser), and the Zayed Sustainability Prize, an annual award celebrating achievements that are driving impact, innovation and inspiration. This year, during its 11th annual awards cycle, the Zayed Sustainability Prize has introduced five new award categories in health, food, energy, water and global high schools.

There have been new additions to this year’s ASDW, including the expansion of the IRENA General Assembly from two days to four. Youth will continue to be involved in discussions, and ADSW provides an innovative platform where young people and entrepreneurs are encouraged to bring in their ideas through the second edition of Clix, a platform that gives young innovators the chance to develop winning environmental concepts through leveraging cutting-edge technology for the benefit of the planet.