Clean energy is the way forward in Mideast

With rapid global migration to the urban landscapes, cities are at the front lines in the fight against climate change

By Saeed Al Abbar

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Published: Sat 10 Jun 2017, 9:44 PM

Last updated: Sat 10 Jun 2017, 11:44 PM

COP21, the landmark United Nations Climate Change Conference held in 2015, has once again made its way into headlines. Recent developments have sparked debates about the future of the Agreement, the continued commitment of participant nations, and the impact that these changes are likely to have.

But before discussing all this, it is important to understand the significance of COP21 in the first place. The Paris Agreement was historic as following the failures at Copenhagen in 2009, and the lack of commitment to the earlier Kyoto Protocol, it was the first time that nations across the globe came together to set out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. With the support of almost 200 countries, it is a clear signal to investors, businesses, and policy-makers that the global transition to clean energy is here to stay and that energy resources must shift away from polluting fossil fuels.

What was apparent at COP21 was the significant role played by cities rather than just nation states in the climate change dialogue. Having participated in previous COP events, what was apparent at COP21 was that cities believed it was fundamental for them to help shape the Agreement. At COP21, more than 400 mayors came together for the Climate Summit for Local Leaders, organized by the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo and former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change. This was the largest climate-oriented gathering of mayors to date, providing a forum for a dynamic discussion of solutions and ambitions for climate targets.

With rapid global migration to the urban landscapes, cities are at the front lines in the fight against climate change. Furthermore, policy decisions at the city level, whether with regards to building regulations, transport infrastructure or power generation have a significant bearing on carbon emissions and this was clearly recognised at COP21. As a result, actions and roadmaps, which were put forward fully engaged decision makers at the city level.

It remains vital that countries in the Middle East, wherein oil and gas and construction as major industry verticals, honour their commitments. To a large extent, this continues to hold true as countries throughout the region have submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which sets out their commitments under COP21. We have seen these being implemented successfully, too. For example, here in the UAE, we have seen significant advancements in the deployment of renewables and energy efficiency across the transport and building sectors.

Besides the positive impact the agreement stands to create on climate change, COP21 and the subsequent discussions at COP22 in Marrakech sent a clear message to business leaders, scientists, engineers and the wider industry that the world is embracing a low carbon future. This creates significant economic opportunity in every sector. For example, it is estimated that globally, $7.8 trillion will be invested in clean energy between 2017 and 2040. This is more than double the $3.2 trillion forecasted for traditional forms of energy. This investment stimulates a new 'clean energy boom' and will create millions of jobs around the world.

In the Middle East, where we have some of the highest rates of youth unemployment, COP21 provides a stimulus to economies throughout the region and will create opportunities for young entrepreneurs and graduates in the clean-tech space. With vast quantities of solar energy abundantly available, we have seen and will continue to see significant investment and growth in this sector. The building sector in the Middle East has also seen the creation of new jobs and opportunities through the retrofit of old buildings to be more energy efficient as well as in the deployment of new skills and technologies in energy efficient and sustainable construction projects.

The argument that following commitments to the Paris Agreement can hamper economic growth is a gross misconception. In line with the principles of the Green Economy, it would be wise for Middle Eastern countries to continue to honour their commitments to the landmark Paris Agreement. In doing so, they will prepare themselves for the radical shift in resource utilisation and create sustainable economic growth.

Saeed Al Abbar is a Director at AESG, and has been a regional thought leader on the application of sustainable development principles.

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