Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan: The man who piloted nation's diversification from oil

Sustainable development is the focus; a major drop in carbon emissions could make the UAE a hub of the green economy


Anjana Sankar

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Published: Sun 15 May 2022, 12:36 PM

Last updated: Sun 15 May 2022, 12:51 PM

In the 1930s, Abu Dhabi was a fishing village off the Arabian Gulf coast. The emirate owes its rags-to-riches story to oil. It is one of the largest oil producers and holds the vast majority of the young nation’s oil reserves.

However, the country’s future will depend on diversifying its economy and reducing dependence on oil, which is not lost on the UAE leadership.

In a speech during the World Government Summit a few years ago, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan had said the country would celebrate the last barrel of oil shipped out, voicing the country’s vision to move away from an oil-dependent economy.

“In 50 years, when we might have the last barrel of oil, the question is: when it is shipped abroad, will we be sad?

“If we are investing today in the right sectors, I can tell you we will celebrate at that moment,” he had said to a packed audience.

Abu Dhabi’s transformation from a little-known emirate to a global cultural and sporting destination under the leadership of Sheikh Mohamed was significant. A modern state began to emerge with new attractive real estate developments on Saadiyat Island, the building of world-class museums like Louvre Abu Dhabi that turned the capital city into a cultural hub, establishment of higher education institutions like the New York Abu Dhabi University and leisure and entertainment destinations such as Yas Island that is home for the world’s first Ferrari-themed park.

A global audience flocked to Abu Dhabi to make the most out of its packed sporting and entertainment calendar, including big-ticket events like Formula 1 races and world-class concerts. As the emirate grew economically, the need to meet its growing energy needs also grew.

The establishment of the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant in Ruwais is an important part of the UAE’s efforts to diversify its energy sources and provide clean and efficient energy to homes, businesses and government facilities while reducing its carbon footprint. The Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant is expected to prevent up to 22 million tonnes of carbon emissions every year, equivalent to removing 4.8 million cars from the roads.

The UAE has made an ambitious climate commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The nuclear power plant will play a huge role in decarbonising the electricity supply to meet the target. The UAE will host the climate change summit COP28 in 2023, which is seen as a milestone in the country’s efforts to address and accelerate climate change issues.

“The UAE is honoured to have been selected as the host country for COP28 in 2023. We look forward to working with the international community to accelerate global efforts to address climate change & environmental protection and create a more sustainable economic future,” His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan had tweeted.


In 2021, he announced the launch of a global clean energy powerhouse intended to spearhead the drive to net-zero carbon by 2050.

Consolidating their combined efforts in renewable energy and green hydrogen, Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, Mubadala Investment Company and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) will partner under the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) brand. The partnership between three Abu Dhabi champions will have a combined current, committed, and exclusive capacity of over 23 Gigawatts of renewable energy, with the expectation of reaching well over 50GW total capacity by 2030. The powerful new combination will further drive the de-carbonisation of power across local and international markets while accelerating the UAE’s path towards net-zero carbon.

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