DUBAI: A lively debate on transforming energy in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and how the developed world should do more to aid this transition, took place recently as part of Expo 2020’s Climate and Biodiversity Week.
The ministerial-level event at Expo 2020’s Nexus for People and Planet was co-curated by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), and Masdar.
Proving to be both a moment of reckoning and recognition for the clean-energy-transition efforts in SIDS, it also called for immediate action for project financing. With SIDS amongst the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change, they are also often the most dependent on fossil fuels for their energy needs; delegates all agreed that accelerated – and collaborative – efforts were crucial.
Mariam Hareb Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment said, “The solutions we develop must be inclusive, and should engage women and youth. Right now, we’re in the middle of a global energy transition: renewable energy has undergone a huge cost reduction and become highly commercially viable. Additionally, new technologies are evolving quickly, and we must capitalise on that. We look forward to working with you on new renewable clean energy projects that will benefit local communities and allow them to actively contribute to the energy transition. An inclusive and just energy transition is an absolute necessity.”
Francesco La Camera, Director General, IRENA, said: “We come together at a critical moment in history: a crisis that once seemed far away is now on our doorstep,” while also praising Expo 2020 for being a “melting pot for ideas, culture and innovation, and the fitting location for addressing the pressing issues of our time.”
With the target of net zero by 2050 high on everyone’s agenda, La Camera stressed that aside from the additional USD60 billion (AED220 billion) needed for climate control, the world has to work hand-in-hand to bring together those key stakeholders who have championed clean energy transition by developing renewable solutions.
Aminath Shauna, Minister of Climate Change, Environment and Technology, Maldives, said that island nations, including her own, were the most vulnerable to climate change. “We depend entirely on imports, so we need to transition to an economy that is fuelled by sunshine and renewables. Although we have sunshine in abundance, we don’t have the land needed to install large-scale solar panels, which is why we’re also looking at renewable sources for energy. We need access that is affordable, accessible, and long-term; I don’t think this is a very big ask.”
The crux lies in an effective electricity roadmap that reduces greenhouse emissions while ensuring that access to energy – a basic human right – is not at risk.
“Energy poverty is a firm part of the energy transition journey. I welcome the conversations and I welcome the UAE’s initiatives in policy and funding to allow for implementation on-ground for vital energy projects, ensuring that no one is left behind,” said Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of UN-Energy.
The numbers, she said, speak volumes. “There are 759 million people with no access to electricity, and 2.6 billion have no access to clean cooking. Many of our economies are based on diesel or petrol.”
But Ogunbiyi insisted that developing countries do have solid, well-thought-out plans for transition, and yet in spite of this were still being denied financing. She said: “The policies are in place, so let’s stop talking and let’s start acting. We have to demand this going into COP26. This is a crisis.”
Highlighting the stark truth that island states contribute the least to climate change, but are disproportionately affected, Ogunbiyi added: “I don’t like the notion that these countries are asking for handouts because they’re not the ones that have caused the problems. You can’t blame countries for using fossil fuels if you don’t give them a clean offer. We have to be unapologetic that we are putting an emphasis on the people who need it the most – and the UAE has an opportunity to help.”
While there were different views regarding access to financing, Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, CEO Masdar, agreed that the UAE was in a unique position to be at the forefront of the renewable movement.
He said: “After 15 years, Masdar has become one of the world leaders in renewable energy. No one cared to talk about renewable energy back then, especially in a country where the energy is based on fossil fuel. But change is a must, and today our region is accelerating renewables. In 2019, we built the largest 10-megawatt solar farm in the region. Two years later, we are developing two-gigawatt projects – that’s how far we’ve come.”
Affirming that the financing for developing island countries was available, Al Ramahi said it was just a matter of providing the investors with the right environment and the right opportunities: “Masdar has already worked with 11 countries in the Pacific, at least three in the Indian Ocean, and three in the Caribbean, with seven projects under construction and seven in development – we’re providing both the funds and the technical support, this is key. We have to work hard with the host countries to deploy these opportunities and make them a reality.”