At least within our green media circle, the consensus was that the Queen of Jordan gave the most powerful speech of all the great speeches at the combined opening ceremony of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, the World Future Energy Summit, the International Renewable Energy Conference, the International Water Summit, and coordinated events.
Right from the beginning, it was clear that she, or her speech writer, had a great sense for how to get people’s attention using popular figures of speech:
“I’m humbled to be surrounded by such a distinguished and talented audience: politicians, business leaders, innovators, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. In fact, I half expected to walk in and see thousands of light bulbs above your heads sparking…popping… and burning with brilliant ideas!”
From then on, she had our attention, but she made sure to hold and increase it:
“By being here today, you’re already part of the solution to the global energy crisis. Fueling our future with innovation and humanity. Bringing power, and with it, empowerment, to millions around the world. So, thank you Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Abu Dhabi, and Masdar, for bringing us together.
“I cannot think of a better place for us to gather. Abu Dhabi’s bold vision for sustainable energy is transforming this nation and inspiring our region… at a time when the Arab world is at a critical juncture. No one can predict the future, but this much is true: energy requirements will play a vital role in determining it.”
Beautiful words, with deep understanding behind them. But Queen Rania Al Abdullah wasn’t there just to pay praise and make us feel good. She was there to move the world forward.
“The Arab world includes some of the richest and the poorest countries in terms of energy resources. This stark disparity is evident even in countries that share borders. Despite neighboring some of the most oil-rich countries, my country, Jordan, relies on imports to cover 96 percent of our energy needs.
“Our region hosts yet another contradiction. We’re rich in the energy of our overwhelmingly young population, but poor in the opportunities we can offer them.
“And we’ve all seen the result of that. Frustrated energies spilling onto the Arab street over the past two years.
“According to a Gallop poll conducted last year, in the midst of the unrest, the majority of Arab youth still place finding a job as their number one priority. Yet, if we continue with business as usual, too many are unlikely to find one in the next 5 years.
“It was Thomas Edison, the inventor of the aforementioned light bulb, who said that, ‘Discontent is the first necessity of progress.’
“Well, we’ve seen the discontent; now let’s work on the progress.“
That was a moving introduction, but then she got into the crux of the whole week, the need for sustainable energy. I recorded the following six and a half minutes of her talking about this, so I’ll share that video now, followed by the text of that section:
Here’s the text of that section:
“But in the absence of long-term, sustainable solutions to our energy needs, progress will be slow and uneven. Not just in this region, but everywhere.
“Today, 1.4 billion people, that’s 1 in 5 in the world, still cannot access grid electricity. For a billion more, access is unreliable.
“And without sustainable energy, there can be no sustainable development.
“Energy is humanity’s lifeblood; where it flows, prosperity burgeons. Where it stalls, the impoverished and disadvantaged languish… burdened by multiple challenges.
“The most crippling effects of energy poverty are felt by children. It is a cruel irony that those who had the least to do with climate change and energy crises are paying the highest price. And they know it.
“Last year, the Child Fund Alliance surveyed over 6,000 children aged between 10 and 12, from 47 countries, to find out about their hopes, aspirations, and fears.
“In one question, they were asked, ‘If you could do one thing to improve the environment around your community, what would it be?’
“The answers might surprise you.
“They didn’t say, ‘build a soccer field’ or ‘give us a playground.’
“Some of the most popular responses from children were pleas to improve infrastructure. ‘Drill for water.’ ‘Build schools and hospitals.’ ‘Provide electricity and latrines.’
“Although they were young, they were wise beyond their years.
“In recent years, the global community has made great progress in improving the lives of children, with more children enrolled in school, less global deaths among children under 5, more access to clean drinking water.
“But, in too many places, this progress is not only slowing, it’s in danger of stalling.
“Take Gaza, where power cuts, a daily reality, make studying at home tough. Street lamps there are not only illuminating roads, they’re lighting up futures. Look, and you will see children huddled under them, textbooks in hand, reading, learning. They have learned to make a little light go a long way.
“Looking up from his notes, 10-year-old Yazan says, ‘When my mother buys me a candle at home to study, it doesn’t last long, so I come here. I hardly ever notice the passing cars; I’m here to study, because I wish to become a doctor.’
“Here’s the thing. Maths can be hard. Grammar can be hard. Exams can be hard. Light to study by in the evening, in the safety of your home — that should be easy.
“Because if it’s not easy, children will drop out of school. And as they do so, the promise of better health… good jobs… and stronger economies goes with them.
“Or take Yemen, where, in the past year, there have been some days with less than one hour of electricity, and where sitting under street lamps to study is simply not an option for girls.
“‘We were tired of darkness,’ said 16-year-old Wafa Al-Rimi. And so, with the help of INJAZ Yemen, and some private sector guidance, she formed an all-female company that invented solar-powered lights – for which they won INJAZ Al-Arab’s Best Company of the Year in November.
“Or take Sudan, where midwives pray that mothers will give birth at daylight. Because when darkness descends, it is only by the flickering flame of a kerosene lamp, with all its choking fumes, that fragile newborns are brought into the world.
“Nimat, a midwife, recalls a harrowing moment during a delivery.
“‘Suddenly, a very strong wind blew out the lamp’s light. I was forced to continue the delivery in darkness, fumbling, and guessing what to do.’
“Birth. The most critical moment for a mother and her newborn child… and the light goes out.
“Or take Iraq, where black-outs are so frequent, the Al-Dakhil Clinic in Baghdad had to destroy precious medicines because they couldn’t be kept at the right temperatures. And where they had to cancel their children’s vaccination program because the vaccines couldn’t be stored properly.
“Children don’t deserve these injustices.
“But there is light, and well before the end of the tunnel.
“You and I know that there are no technical barriers to universal access to modern energy.
“With capital investment and political will, we could light up schools for children, power health clinics for mothers, and their babies, and pump clean water for families.
“With new energy we could fuel a solar revolution; bring about a boom in the science, engineering, and manufacturing fields; build green industries and green jobs; and open new markets for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Proven, innovative solutions exist. And I’m proud that many of them are coming from the Arab World.
“I’m proud that in Jordan, Bedouin women are training to be solar engineers, swapping unhealthy and expensive kerosene lamps for solar power, and in so doing, freeing up money for their families.”
Pretty powerful stuff. Very powerful stuff. And it’s wonderful to see this world leader exposing, so powerfully, the benefits of clean energy and green entrepreneurship.
As you must have noticed if you watched the full video above, that wasn’t the end of her speech. My memory card or my batteries ran out. After a quick recharge, I recorded the short video below, but before that part, there was this short segment, focusing on a few more bright examples from the Middle East, as well as the need for much more:
“… Or in Egypt, where farmers are exploring biodynamic agriculture, using compost to turn desert lands into healthy soil. And where they’re exploring innovative irrigation methods to reduce water stress.
“I’m proud of Abu Dhabi, of its global leadership role in sustainable development. And Masdar City, a test-bed for renewable energy and technology.
“And, I’m pleased that, for the first time, this conference is engaging and encouraging high school students to find innovative energy solutions, through the Zayed Future Energy Prize.
“But while there are many examples of new energy technologies, they are still too few and far between. They must be streamlined and scaled up, made cheaper and more efficient.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there is an industry waiting to be tapped. And the Arab world is perfectly positioned not only to tap it, but to lead it.
“In so doing, we would be addressing one of the key fundamentals to a more corrective course for the region, using the potent energy of our people to chart the way forward.”
Queen Rania certainly knows how to inspire. As noted above, and as I think you’d all agree, we considered this the most forceful speech of the opening ceremony, and probably the most forceful speech of the whole week (though, one more of the few I have remaining to publish was comparably forceful, in my opinion).
The above quote wasn’t the end of Queen Rania’s passionate speech, however. For the end, she came back to Thomas Edison, an energy and technology leader of another generation, and one who had firm faith in renewable energy, especially solar energy. Here are the Queen of Jordan’s final lines:
“Let’s be inspired by Edison.
“‘I have not failed,’ he said, ‘I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’
“I say, with your help, let us find one that will.”
For more content from CleanTechnica’s trip to Abu Dhabi, check out our archive pages for Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, for the World Future Energy Summit, and/or for the International Renewable Energy Conference.
Full Disclosure: my trip to Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week was funded by Masdar. That said, I was completely free to cover what I wanted throughout the week, and at no point did I feel under pressure to cover specific events or Masdar in any particular way.