View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Good News for UAE to Host 11th World Renewable Energy Congress 2010

Congratulations Abu Dhabi
There are many good reasons why Abu Dhabi has been granted the privilege of hosting the 11th World Renewable Energy Congress (WREC) 25-30 September 2010.

Location is determined by the World Renewable Energy Council (WREC) according to the availability of local funding and sponsorship, the ease of travel to the location, the extent of host government and institutional support and perceived benefits to the local country.

With all local organisation and services needing to be provided by the host, the UAE can easily comply but there are some more important reasons why Abu Dhabi was selected and why this Congress will be good for the UAE.

Middle Eastern Venue
The Abu Dhabi meeting will be the first time in its 20 year history that the biennial Congress will be held in the Middle East (former locations include England, USA, Italy and Germany).

As with all good conferences this location will point up the distinctive challenges of sustainability and coping with global warming in one of the hottest and driest countries of the world.

Islamic Country
For the first time the World Renewable Energy Congress will be held in a country where Islam is the state religion. Although religiously the country is diverse the call to prayer five times a day is symbolic of the way Islam pervades all aspects of the nation’s life. It will be of interest to see at the Congress the ways that the UAE and other Muslim nations represented draw from their scriptures to give a foundation and rationale for their environmental programs. With sharia law, sharia finance, sharia investments and sharia hotels becoming popular, will there be a strong drive at the Congress for sharia sustainability and other environmental measures?

Richest Venue
This 11th Congress will take place in the richest city in the world. Participants will no doubt tour the emerging Masdar Development which is due to become by 2016 “the greenest city in the world.”

Congress delegates will observe the makings of an experimental city for 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses that is hoped to provide a model of an existence that is waste and carbon free, powered by solar energy and free from cars.

Seeing Masdar will give the 120 speakers and 650 participants from many countries of the world the opportunity to see the full extent of what can be done with $20 billion and some desert sands.

Oil Venue
Delegates sitting in the Abu Dhabi Congress near one of the world’s richest oil fields and with the September sun raising the temperature each day to 40-45C (104-113F) will have ample time to consider the UAE conundrum: The country has potentially some of the richest sources of solar power in the world and one of the richest supplies of oil for the next 120 years but to promote solar energy too quickly and too vigorously is to put at risk the income upon which the nation is being built.

Youngest Nation
Take another look and ponder the age of the nations that have hosted former Congresses and consider that the UAE is by far the youngest host. While the land and civilization is ancient the United Arab Emirates only became a nation in 1971, less than 40 years ago.

It would be valuable for delegates to venture away from the Emirates Palace and the capital city and tour the other six emirates. The challenges of sustainability and turning existing buildings into green buildings will soon become evident. Like many emerging nations the UAE over the last four decades has had far more pressing problems to deal with than complying with international environmental benchmarks.

Lifting the veil, one learns that despite its wealth the UAE has the unenviable reputation for having one of the largest ecological footprints in the world. While extracting rocks from the mountains for its skyscrapers the country is struggling to deal with air pollution caused by a hazardous cocktail of desert sand, quarry dust, industrial smoke and auto exhausts.

While catering to the insatiable growth for oil bunkering and exports at its ports, the UAE has not succeeded in preventing the regular dumping of oil slops by rogue tanker captains into the sea which vandalize the marine environment and create havoc for hoteliers and diving companies.

While recycling plants are frequently appearing, in many of the Emirates there is still no recycling service available to householders whereby they can sort and put out their waste knowing that it will be recycled.

Towards Sustainable Environment
The theme of the Abu Dhabi Congress is ‘Towards Sustainable Environment’ which is an apt description of the state of things environmental in the host country. At this stage the country cannot claim to be a world environmental leader but it is making great strides in the right direction.

UAE leaders like His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum are recognizing the enormity of the environmental challenge and responding through the implementation of law (especially in the building industry) and by general encouragement.

The UAE is giving significant amounts of money to international environmental agencies. In November 2008 the UAE joined with three other Gulf OPEC members (Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) to pledge a total of 750 million dollars to a new fund to tackle global warming through financing research for a clean environment.

A recently distributed independent report entitled Arab Environment Future Challenges was critical of the UAE for its high consumption of water and excessive misuse of fertilizers and pesticides but it was commendatory in marking the steps that the UAE has taken according to several environmental indicators.

Benefits to Local Country
The hosting of the Congress is good news for the UAE especially because of the “perceived benefits to the local country.” Leading up to September 2010 the staging of the Congress will give every motivation for the UAE to accelerate its environmental laws and education and do all it can to get its own house in order.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Masdar in the making.