Resource-rich in every way: How Gulf states can transform their countries into sustainable economies
The Gulf states can use their prosperity and the opportunity to be early adopters of potentially transformative sustainable technologies to accelerate the adoption of renewable energies and sustainable development internationally, delegates at the recent conference session of the 7th World Future Energy Summit (WFES) and 2nd International Water Summit (IWS) in Abu Dhabi said.
Moderated by Frank Wouters, Deputy Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the final day’s final conference session invited a panel of industry experts to forecast future efforts to manage world energy and water demand sustainably.
“Neither our water nor our energy can be considered cheap anymore,” said Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Director of Energy and Climate Change at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the First Permanent Representative of the UAE to IRENA.
Panelist Samantha Smith, Director at the WWF, said that the effects of climate change were unavoidably linked to the challenges of water, energy and food.
“If we don’t do something about climate change all of these issues will become much harder to solve,” she warned.
Despite their reliance on fossil fuels, the Gulf states had the resources and the institutions to address sustainability challenges, Smith argued, while the accelerated adoption of renewable energies was one avenue to address the region’s youth unemployment.
Besides the technical constraints, Gulf states should think about how to develop and capture the benefits of being one of the first places in the world to introduce sustainable solutions on a large scale, she said.
The World Bank chose the final conference session of this year’s WFES and IWS to formally launch its Thirsty Energy initiative, a global campaign to encourage best practice in addressing water and energy challenges and to encourage more involvement from the private sector.
“The long term future of energy and water is fundamental to addressing poverty,” said William Rex, Lead Water Resources Specialist at the World Bank’s Water Unit, adding that it was time “to move from insights to action”.
Opening the session, Dr Al Zeyoudi remarked that a significant increase in the price of natural gas in the GCC had made water costlier too, which could limit economic growth if left unchecked. But the region was “starting to see a cultural change” as forums such as WFES and IWS continue to raise awareness of water and energy challenges and the action needed to address them.
Eicke Weber, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy, applauded the initiative of Abu Dhabi in bringing the issues of water and energy together during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, and highlighted returning confidence in the global solar panel industry as demand catches up with supply.
“Things are changing,” said Weber, a winner in this year’s Zayed Future Energy Prize. “We are standing in front of the second gold rush – in photovoltaics.”
“The link ([in the Gulf region) between water and energy is very strong,” added Dr Mahmoud Dawoud, Water Resources Advisor at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), noting that 30-40 percent of energy consumption in the GCC was for water production.
To tackle this problem, the emirate of Abu Dhabi was exploring the potential of solar-powered water desalination and projects to reclaim waste water, he said.