It’s very easy to slam oil & gas giants for their role in global emissions and their hesitance to give up luxurious lifestyles and steady revenue streams — not to mention the conspiratorial tricks and scams that some of them definitely play. But there are a couple of other things to consider as well:
1) Even people tied to fossil fuel industries can understand the societal threat of global heating and rapid climate change, and can care enough to try to stop it*.
2) Wealth from a certain industry doesn’t have to make a thoughtful beneficiary and decision-maker counterproductively ignore or deny threats to that industry from new tech and new business models.
It is easy and all too common for Europeans and Americans seeing cleantech announcements from the UAE to write them off as PR fluff or greenwashing. Yes, I’m sure they put extra emphasis on good things they are doing. Who doesn’t? But that doesn’t take away from the actual value of those actions and the intent behind them.
I’ve spoken candidly with enough genuine big shots in the UAE (including some I can’t even name) to come to one clear conclusion: the country’s leadership is sincere and passionate about sustainability, and about finding ways to be a sustainability and cleantech leader.
In the video interview below with Dr. Nawal Al-Hosany — Executive Director of Sustainability at Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company, and Director of the Zayed Future Energy Prize — another reporter kicks off the questioning by highlighting something Masdar staff know all too well: since the beginning, many outsiders have considered Masdar City (and Masdar itself, which many people don’t understand is much broader than Masdar City) to simply be a PR stunt. As the city and company have developed, however, reporters, businesspeople, policymakers, and others have come to learn that Masdar’s vision and even accomplishments to date are deep, broad, and serious.
In the course of the conversation, Dr. Al-Hosany and reporters (including myself) note a few of the accomplishments Masdar has achieved since it was launched in 2006. It has been running Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week and the World Future Energy Summit for a decade — key annual cleantech events in the region and even globally. Masdar Energy invested in some leading clean energy projects around the world, such as the giant London Array wind farm in the UK, early Gemasolar and Valle I and II concentrated solar power (CSP) plants in Spain, and more recently the Hywind Scotland floating offshore wind farm, among many others. It also developed an innovative, record-breaking CSP plant in Abu Dhabi, Shams 1.
Before anyone else in the region, the UAE and specific emirates set renewable energy targets, which along with other factors eventually led to two record-smashing low-price solar bids (record low prices for the world). Solar development is occurring much faster than initially expected in the UAE and also now in nearby countries. The UAE is becoming the regional center for cleantech discussions, deals, and guidance. Abu Dhabi’s familial neighbor, Dubai, has been a strong coopetitor advancing cleantech in ways complementary to Abu Dhabi and Masdar, and is now becoming a global EV leader.
And, of course, there’s the annual “Oscars of Cleantech,” the Zayed Future Energy Prize, which I now sit on the review committee for. (You can spot me in the two videos below if you want a glimpse of what I talk and look like when I’m deathly sick.)
One of the other things that always impresses me when I visit Abu Dhabi for the and Zayed Future Energy Prize and other Masdar events is how much attention is put on the full sustainability triangle — environmental, business, and social sustainability. Many ignore the social side when focusing on this topic, and it’s genuinely refreshing to see how consistently and effectively Dr. Al-Hosany has kept her teams and colleagues focused on the social matters. These are clearly not an afterthought but an essential element of what they are doing. A focus on gender equality in cleantech and raising the profile smart women in cleantech is perhaps nowhere as strong as it is in Masdar and the UAE. It’s an inspiration year after year.
In the interview embedded at the top, Dr. Al-Hosany also highlights the emphasis they put on the youth, why they care so much about the youth, and how the youth responds. You can also get a dose of that in the second video above. Again, Masdar’s focus on this aspect of sustainability is a model for the world, imho.
And I implore you: if you are skeptical about how passionately leaders there are following and trying to lead on cleantech and sustainability, drop the concern — they are for real. Of course, they, like everyone, still need to do much more. In a race with the fires of hell, we are still trailing.
*It seems this could be more true when people live in harsh, hot, desert environments.
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