This week on Cleaning Up, Michael welcomes Dr. Nawal Al-Hosany, UAE’s Permanent Representative to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), for a wide-ranging discussion on IRENA’s work promoting an equitable transition, the UAE’s emergence as a renewables superpower, and the significance of COP28 coming to the region later this year.
Edited Highlights: CLICK HERE
Links and Related Episodes:
Learn more about the International Renewable Energy Agency and its work: CLICK HERE
Learn about IRENA and the UAE’s Beyond Food initiative: CLICK HERE
Dr. Nawal’s recent op-ed on the importance of climate education: CLICK HERE
Visit the UAE mission to IRENA’s YouTube channel: CLICK HERE
Watch Cleaning Up Episode 87 with Francesco La Camera: CLICK HERE
Dr. Nawal Al-Hosany is the Permanent Representative of the UAE to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) as of April 2018. Previously, Dr. Al Hosany held the position of the Executive Director of Sustainability at Masdar, the international renewable energy leader based in Abu Dhabi. She also served as the Director of the Zayed Future Energy Prize for eight years between 2011-2018. Dr. Al-Hosany is an active member of various climate-focused boards and committees, including the advisory council of National Geographic magazine and the advisory Panel for the Momentum for Change initiative of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). She is a board member of Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) and she serves as the Vice Chair for the Global Council of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Dr. Al-Hosany graduated from the Faculty of Engineering at the UAE University in 1992 and obtained her PhD from Newcastle University in the UK in 2002. In July 2018, Dr. Al-Hosany was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Keele University in the UK in recognition for her achievements in the field of sustainability. Dr Al-Hosany has also received the “Arab Woman Award” and the “Emirates Business Women Award”.
Michael Liebreich So Dr. Nawal, thank you so much for joining us here today on Cleaning Up.
Dr. Nawal Al-Hosany Thank you so much for having me, so lovely to see you.
ML It's a pleasure to see you, not in person, but here on Zoom as we record this. Now, can you tell me, whereabouts are you as you record this?
NA-H Well, I am in the UAE. As you know, I am now the permanent representative of the UAE to IRENA, which is the International Renewable Energy Agency. So, I guess, you know, I'm very excited to be doing what I love, and being a diplomat, but based in my own country. So, that's a good thing to do.
ML Very nice. And let's start by talking about that role with IRENA. We had the Secretary General, we had Francesco La Camera on Cleaning Up that was Episode 87, in May 2022. So, for any of the audience who wants to know lots about IRENA, they maybe should take the time to listen to Episode 87. But give us a thumbnail sketch, if you might of IRENA, and then we'll come to your role.
NA-H I think the most important thing about IRENA is that it was established mainly to put renewable energy at the heart of the policymaking process. I look at it as the North Star, for the organization to drive the conversation to a just and inclusive energy transition. I'm very proud that, in a very short time, we just concluded IRENA's 13th assembly. And IRENA has 168 members, and 16 [inaudible], which is a great achievement for a very young organization. But I think maybe that's the key word because for IRENA, it was created, not to copy or mimic any other without international organization; it's very young, it's very agile. It's designed to deliver innovative solutions, and we were very happy to win the bid to host it in Abu Dhabi back in 2011. So, you know, it is it is an organization that's very, very unique, and it's in its composition, but it's also very impactful in what it does.
ML Let me just backfill, just one thing, but just in case, there's anybody out there in the audience. Lots of them are great experts on this stuff, but IRENA stands for the International Renewable Energy Agency. Founded as you say, about 10 years ago; competitive bid for where to host it; a bit of a compromise with Germany, but in the end, it was Abu Dhabi that became the host of IRENA.
NA-H Yes, we won it fair and square. It was a global consensus about hosting IRENA, and yes, I remember Sheikh Abdullah saying, one of the good things to do is to have an office in Bonn, and now we have one satellite office, small office in Bonn, looking at innovation, but we also IRENA, has an observer office in the UN. But having it headquartered in Abu Dhabi, in Masdar City, actually, is something we are very proud of, and we see the results of its being hosted there, as you know, as it convenes more and more debates and discussions and solutions when it comes to renewables.
ML Now, if you could talk about your role as the permanent representative? Because, every country, you've got these 168 members, they will all send somebody to the annual meeting, and they all interact with IRENA, but obviously as the host nation, your interaction is very different and therefore I suspect your role is quite special?
NA-H My role is, you know, it will have three different pillars to it. Well, the first and the most important one being a PR to this organization. Like any other PRs, I need to ensure that the interest of my country is protected, the position of my country is highlighted and explained and expressed. I also contribute to the policy debates and the strategic development of the organization as an active member state of the organization. The other pillar of my role, which is as important, being [that] IRENA [is] hosted in the UAE is to help position IRENA itself and wherever I go, I speak about IRENA, the work that they do, ensure that IRENA's interests are being protected, ensure that we as a country, a host country, are leveraging the expertise and the know how that is being developed within IRENA. And the third is, being hosted in the UAE, my role is to ensure that all logistical and administrative needs were being met and protected, and, their relationship with different entities within the UAE is being active and, let's say leveraged, in a very positive way, for both organizations. So, we host in Abu Dhabi the governing meetings for the organization, we host the assembly, and it is part of the Abu Dhabi sustainability week. So, we do that to kick off the year, basically; it's the first event globally, when it comes to any climate action conversations, that happens in Abu Dhabi in January. Then we host the two council meetings, ensuring that all the delegations, our member states are, when they arrive to the UAE, all their needs and all their logistical arrangements are being taken care of. So, this is what the mission is doing, and my role as a PR is to ensure that all this is being done smoothly and in a very successful way.
ML So, I have a confession to make, because you've just had your general meeting, the annual meeting. And for all the times that I've been in the UAE, and for all the times that I've been to Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, and for all the times that you and I have worked there, I've never been to an IRENA annual meeting.
NA-H No way.
ML I know, it's shocking. It's shocking.
NA-H It is indeed, so we'll make sure that's corrected for next year.
ML Well, we will need to talk about obviously, and we'll will come back to in this conversation, the COP28. Because of course, it's the Emirates COP28, and it's going to be hosted not in Abu Dhabi, but in Dubai. But I suspect that that will draw me back to the UAE, which I have not visited since before the pandemic. Much to my regret, I didn't come this year, either to the IRENA general meeting, or even to Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. But before we go too far, on IRENA, could you also just share some of the initiatives? We had Francesco La Camera, May last year, but anything new, or what is what is consuming IRENA, what is IRENA focusing on? This is a pretty important year, because obviously, you've got at the end of it, COP28. So, what are the current big initiatives?
NA-H So because of COP28 coming to the UAE, and IRENA has been very active, moving, as we moved into... I think in the last couple of years, the conversation has changed. We started as you know, when we first launched Masdar and then initiating IRENA, renewable energy was such a niche industry, and it was literally, you know, very, very few countries had then developed strategies about renewables. Today, it's become mainstream. So, that's why, with that in mind, the IRENA now, our new strategy has been more focused on energy transition, clearly [a] just energy transition. So, you see most of the work and most of the strategy and our programs is linked to that. The other thing that is very, very important that's happening now with IRENA is moving from only discussion on a policy level into more of a knowledge share on a practical level. What do I mean by that? So, they have launched a few collaborative frameworks, and the unique things about those collaborative frameworks is that they link different players in the sector. So, it's not only government and international organizations, but you have government, you have private sector, you have academia and you have some - it depends on the framework, or the topic in hand - you will find sometimes advocacy in that. So, that kind of work became more inclusive and brought IRENA a little bit into the field. They are also moving more into facilitating finance and projects on the ground. We started, as you know, when IRENA was launched, the UAE launched a fund with IRENA, we called it the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development ADFD, IRENA Facility Fund, and that was to finance projects, in least-developed countries, renewable energy projects; clearly, technologies are different depending on the needs of the country, and fund has been fully utilized. So, building on that success, building on the knowledge, building on the know-how, and experience that IRENA, ADFD and the different stakeholders in that project, or in that initiative, had. Now, we launched with IRENA in COP26 the ETA, which is the Energy Transition Accelerator Finance platform. And ETAF started with a seed fund of $400 million from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development. But this is now moving almost close to $1 billion. And again, the aim is to scale up renewable energy projects and funding in developing countries, and fulfilling that by 2030. In COP27, Sharm el-Sheikh, we had new partners joining ADFD we signed with - not me, I mean IRENA, when I say we, I speak about IRENA - Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, [inaudible] and I know that in COP28, there will be more announcements to make. So, you know, it's closing to that target, and mobilizing actual [inaudible] projects. This year, as I mentioned earlier, it's very important for both IRENA and the region, having COP hosted in the UAE. So, there are a few projects and initiatives that we launched with IRENA, ITAF was one of them. But we also launched just now at the assembly, a very important initiative, we are calling it Empowering Lives and Livelihoods. That's building on an initiative we launched earlier, which is Beyond Food. And the reason we designed that is because one of the things that is not being looked at seriously globally is clean cooking solutions. So, that's why we launched Beyond Food in Expo 2020 in Dubai last year, and this now grows into what we are calling Empowering Lives and Livelihoods, and there will be clear focus on women. It's going to be focusing on agricultural solutions and health solutions. So, that's Empowering Lives and Livelihoods, and then we have the - which is a very important thing for the UAE and our leadership, which is education. We also launched with IRENA, the Energy Transition Education Network, and that's something that is being supported by many countries. The network basically is going to work with governments, inter-governmental organizations and education and training institutions, to empower and increase skill sets in the youth. So, founding partners of this initiative are the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, Teach for All, UNICEF, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Higher Education and Sustainability Initiative. So, many international organization joined, many governments. And what we are looking at is creating a bank of resources that help educators educate youth and students on the energy transition and the role of renewable energy. And that started by a seed initiative we called it Educate the Educators, which was, again initiated by the UAE; the aim of it is, sometimes we have a very ambitious youth, unfortunately, their educators are not [at] the same pace when it comes to their level of knowledge. And this has been basically the initiator of this important project. Another initiative which also has gained prominence and we launched it with IRENA on the sideline of the G20 meetings in Bali, it's called the Alliance for Industry Decarbonisation, and it was co-launched with Siemens Energy and 13 companies across different sectors. And the aim is to accelerate Net Zero ambitions and decarbonisation of industries, value chain, in the pursuit of the Paris Agreement climate goals. So, many initiatives, many projects, and as you can see from them, they are addressing adaptation, mitigation, and what we need most is finance. At the same time ensuring we have an inclusive approach by engaging youth and women in this discussion.
ML Thank you very much for that overview of some of the initiative. What I'm very struck by, whenever I look at what IRENA is up to, and what's going on, is just how the whole sector has evolved. I saw a chart recently that showed the growth in investment in the energy transition. Bloomberg just put out these figures - my old team, put out these figures - showing $1.1 trillion invested in the transition in 2022. And the figure for 2004, when I started New Energy Finance and when probably in the UAE the first thoughts about Masdar were being put together - Masdar, which we're going to talk about, Masdar City, the clean city and all the associated programs with that - but in 2004, that figure was, I think, $32 billion. So, from $32 billion to $1.1 trillion, over a period of just under 20 years. And of course, IRENA which started with the thesis of addressing the lack of analysis, the lack of intellectual capital around renewables, now, just operating on this much broader front; right across finance, justice, integrating the solutions on the demand side, gender, all of these issues, at a much different scale than where we were, as I say, 20 years ago.
NA-H Absolutely, and that's why I'm saying, I'm amazed to see where we started and where we are, but it's not enough. We know that it's not enough. We are moving in the right direction, which is very positive. But I think the pace and the speed is something that we definitely need to push for on the accelerator; we push more on the accelerator as we move forward.
ML Indeed, absolutely. And what I want to do, actually, if I might, is just take a step back, and talk about your own trajectory that got you to where you are as the permanent representative to IRENA for the UAE, working on their programs; also, very much behind the scenes working towards COP28 success. And it links back, through this organization I've already mentioned, through Masdar. So, you ended up being the Sustainability Director at Masdar, which is where you and I first interacted. You were then Director of the Zayed Future Energy Prize, which is now the Zayed Sustainability Prize, that's where we worked together. But how did you get there? Just talk us through, what got you into the sustainability career path that's led you to today?
NA-H So, I'm an architect by training. And I was working with - and I don't know if you know that, but I was also at one point in my life working with - Abu Dhabi police, so I was a police officer. But I was working with in the projects department, I was the Deputy Director of Planning. And at that point, I did my PhD during my work with the police, because we were investing heavily in rehabilitating, and building new facilities, and different buildings typology. The thing about Abu Dhabi police is they owned all their assets; so, they own their police station, they own their staff accommodation, and one of the things that they owned were prison buildings. And as you know, the UAE - and you've been there many times - is a very hot climate, and a humid climate. So clearly, those buildings need to be air conditioned, and as you know, the cooling load in the UAE is highest in comparison to different regions. So, I decided I'm going to look into sustainable architecture, and understand how we can utilize those sustainability measures not only to make the building more efficient from an energy and water consumption point of view, but also from a functionality point of view; that the building becomes part of the solution, not only an envelope that is housing the inhabitants. And with that in mind, I went to the UK, where you are now, and I did my PhD there, and I looked at sustainable architecture. Going back to the UAE after that, when I did my thesis, there was very little, if any, talk about sustainable design, sustainable architecture. And this is when the UAE launched Masdar, the Masdar initiative. So, I was headhunted and approached to join Masdar, and I joined Masdar in 2008 as the Director of Sustainability for Masdar city. And then as the city, we put in place the city sustainability measures, KPIs, all the indicators that we're using to monitor the progress of the city from design, build, operation, etc. And we started attracting tenants and attracting partners to live in the city, and then, Dr. Sultan, at that time, was the CEO of Masdar, was like, we need a corporate sustainability approach, not only sustainability for the city. So suddenly, I found myself becoming the Executive Director of Masdar in charge of sustainability for the whole organization. And as you know, Masdar City is one of the pillars of the company, but not the whole thing. We had Masdar Clean Energy, Master City, at that time, we had Masdar Industries, and also we had the Masdar Special Projects. So, I started to have a corporate role, overseeing all those initiatives, and then also in...
ML I was just going to come in there, because, for the audience, particularly if they're younger, they may not know just how sort of astonishing it was that UAE was launching this clean city. And all of this... there was this kind of rhetoric about transition, and clean energy, and climate change. And, suddenly, we were sort of sitting here in London and New York, and going, what's going on there? Is it sincere? Is this real? Because, I don't want to say it was from left field, but let's put it this way: the other GCC countries, were not talking about these things. Saudi was not talking about these things, lots of oil producers - even ones, by the way, with very, very good clean energy capabilities - were not talking about the same issues. And it was very intriguing, and, of course, it was something that I wanted to get involved in, I wanted to kind of see how sincere it was, and get involved. And then there was, I think you were about to talk about the Zayed Future Energy Prize, and suddenly, I was invited to be I think, initially on the selection panel, and you were... I don't know if you were initially the Director of the prize, but you certainly very shortly were?
NA-H So, the story of why we created the prize is very much an indicator of how the UAE does things. So, in 2006, when the UAE decided that it's time for us to look strategically into where we want to be in 100 years from now; and the vision was that we need to become a global net exporter of innovation and technology. And we wanted to make sure that we have a very solid, strong, diverse economy, and we needed to tap into knowledge-based economies. And with that, renewable energy became very core to the new strategy of the UAE. So, Masdar was launched in the beginning as a company, but it's more of an initiative. What I mean by initiative, [is] you have the Masdar company, but then you have the umbrella, which is the initiative. So, we wanted to create a new industry, and a new sector in the UAE. And that's why part of that equation was the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, which is a university focusing on post-grad studies, solely focused on renewable and sustainable solutions. And the ecosystem for all that had to be a city, a place, and this is where the idea of creating Masdar city [came from]. The other thing that came out of that thinking is when everybody went on a fact-search mission around the world, to understand where this industry is globally. So, you know, there was a team, traveled around the world, checking what's happening, and who's doing what. And the one finding that everybody agreed on [was] that this industry is being treated in very much silos. So, you know, you have the academia working on it in one direction, you have the private sector in a certain trajectory, governments have different levels on how they're addressing it, and policymakers clearly looking at it from a different way. And that's why part of the solution was also to create, at that time, what was called the World Future Energy Summit, and to bring everybody there, and this now grew into Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. So, we started with only looking at energy, and then with Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, with water, waste, cities, and leadership. Then, we discovered that we really cannot know, sitting in the UAE and Abu Dhabi; and we cannot afford to be traveling all the time to identify who's doing what. And that's why the idea came, let's launch this global prize. Let's launch this award that identifies and recognizes achievements in renewable energy and sustainability. And I was at the beginning part of the selection committee, just like yourself, and then couple of years from there, I became the Director of the prize until 2018, when I moved on. And that prize was also part of that big vision, because, when the UAE does something, or when we decide to do something, we do it in a very pragmatic way; we look into, what has been done before, what was successful, how can we improve in the process, and then we start and we convene, and then we kind of improve on the way. And this is the story behind Masdar, to your point: everybody was excited about it. I have to be optimistic, I wouldn't say that they were skeptical; we had some skepticism, but there was global excitement about it. You know, before we broke ground of the city: Dr Sultan and Khaldoon, was at that time CEO of Mubadala, were having tea with the Queen. The Sultan was in the US, in the Pentagon. So, we were talking about it before even... talking about it with leadership of so many countries, before even breaking ground in the city... Because what we were trying to do hasn't been done before, was very interesting, that's very much needed. And I think that's what created this global excitement about it. It is something that definitely the word needed: finding a place where those solutions are being developed, addressed, and treated in a way that the UAE has looked at it.
ML It must have been fun for you as well, with your sustainable architecture background? Because Masdar City was, these were some of the first buildings in the region, some of the first in the world, that were actually being built in that heat, but sustainably. I'm thinking of things like the Siemens regional head office, really innovative stuff.
NA-H Yeah, you had the Siemens... And it was so exciting. Look, you know, we were all learning by doing, it was so exciting. If somebody asked me what was the happiest days of my life, in [my] career, I would say my first few years at Masdar, because you had the smartest people working together and learning as we are doing, and looking at different solutions from all over the world and you know, these corridor chats about certain things, then immediately we go and implement. You know, you had the likes of [Norman] Foster's coming in with very innovative ways.... You know, to your point... You the Siemens headquarters, one example of how, the use of different materials, and different shades, but we also tested different building approaches. So, within the city, you would have Siemens, which is very, very modern. And then you will have the Masdar Institute, at that time, dorms, which... looked very traditional in their design, because they opted for thick walls, the solid walls, ensuring that we're protecting the building from excessive heat by reducing exposure.
ML With the very beautiful window screens, right?
NA-H Yes. And then you had the laboratory in the city, the office buildings, which was very modern, and they were both performing exactly the same way. So, both of them, both buildings, had the same performance, but in a very different design approach. And again, all those being tested for the first time, all those being implemented for the first time, and we are measuring the results as we as we move. And that's why in the beginning, if you remember, Masdar City, was self-developed; we did not allow any third party to develop the city because we were just as I said, testing and building as we moved. Now, we allow third [party] developers, because we have the guidelines that others can work on. So yeah, it was heaven for an architect to be involved in that project, just so exciting.
ML I remember a visit there, where I saw something extraordinary. I don't know which building it was, it was the first time that I had seen a staircase in the GCC region. Because one of the buildings, instead of saying, you should take the lift, why would you want a staircase, in the lobby, it led to the staircase. And it was quite a shock, to be honest.
NA-H Well, all the buildings in Masdar City... Because again, the way the city is designed is we don't have a lot of skyscrapers. The buildings were, you know, four storeys, five storeys. But what we did is that we positioned the staircase in a very prominent location; there will be clearly, elevators around because you need to be inclusive in your design, and people need to take the elevators, as they should. But the centre kind of feature, we had the staircase, and staircases in the buildings were the first thing you see. So, the one you're referring to, I believe is the one that you enter into the Masdar City from the PRT which is again, a technology that's being developed and tested first in the UAE, and globally, which is Personal Rapid Transport system. And these are, the small pods, driverless pods, that you take, you park your car, you take those pods, they take you through that station, and then again, it's driverless, and you just key in your destination. And you know, looking at innovation, [this was] very early days, we're talking, this was in 2010. So, a lot of... And then you go off and you see that beautiful staircase, as you walk into the building. And then if you want to take the elevator, you really need to look, you know, around to find the elevators, not to be seen.
ML That's right. It was exactly that building, it was coming out of those pods, driverless pods, first ones that I've been in, and then you're faced with a staircase, and not just an elevator. So, really flipping things around. And of course, the CEO of the Masdar Initiative was this, brilliant, very dynamic, young executive. You've referred to him a couple of times, Dr. Sultan, now His Excellency Sultan Al Jaber, who had led all of these activities at Masdar. But he has gone on to be the Minister of Industry and Technology, the Head of ADNOC, that's the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. And, of course, now the president of COP28.
NA-H And before that, he was the UAE Climate Envoy for two terms. So, this is also something very important in his career.
ML That's right. So, he's been, he... Because I tell you what, there's a lot of buzz out there in the press saying, well, first of all, why is COP28 going to a petro-state like UAE, where the revenue is mainly coming from oil? And why is the head of the national oil company running it? This is clearly a catastrophe for the climate. And they may not know Dr. Sultan's background, both with Masdar and as a climate special representative, but how do you... Are you getting some of that pushback, or not?
NA-H Michael, we are very used to, you know, a lot of criticism of so many things we do, and we're never really bothered, because we are very much focused on moving forward. Dr. Sultan has more than two decades of leadership experience in government, climate policy, renewable energy. And believe it or not - the other day I realized this - he is the first CEO ever to serve as COP president. So, having a CEO mindset is very different when it comes to leading negotiation and leading change. He served as a Special Envoy for Climate Change for two terms. He has been always an outcomes-focused participant in more than 10 COPs. He has a track record of delivery that everybody knows about. He brokered the US-UAE Partnership to Accelerate Clean Energy, which we call PACE, to catalyze $100 billion in clean energy of emerging economies, and deploy 100 gigawatts of clean energy globally. He is committed to driving the Clean Energy Transition; he helped, to your point, when he was the CEO of Masdar, he helped accelerate adoption for renewables. Masdar is now the world's second largest renewable energy company. We have clean energy investments in over 40 countries - Masdar I mean. They are operating three of the world's largest and lowest cost solar plants. He is, even as ADNOC CEO, I have to say, since he took over that role, he's spearheading investment of $15 billion over five years in decarbonisation strategy, and its new low carbon solutions business. And he helped develop, or they are developing, the region's first Carbon Capture Use and Storage facility, capturing 5 million tonnes of CO2 yearly by 2030. This basically equals annual carbon capture of forest over twice the size of the UAE. 100% of ADNOC grid power comes from clean energy, and this is an industry first. And he did commit ADNOC to reducing its carbon intensity by 25% by 2030, aiming to reach net zero by 2050. And he has been very vocal that he is going to be committed to an inclusive COP process; he's working hand in hand with Her Excellency Shamma al Mazrui as the UAE Youth Climate Champion, and Her Excellency Razan al-Mubarak, who is the UN Climate Change High Level Champion. So, we see them doing that already. Together, they are engaging state and non-state actors, including NGOs, business leaders, and youth and indigenous people. So, I am very, very excited to see a very different COP. Because I think it's going to be an amazing opportunity to see how, as a CEO who is leading a successful business, is going to lead in the same mindset, and foster consensus among [the] international community. You know, I'm very excited about it. I don't think we can see a just energy transition without engaging everybody, specifically the private sector.
ML I mean, I think I take all of that on board, and I hope the audience does as well, because of course, I know Dr. Sultan, so I know what he's capable of, and what his track record is. I think also, one thing that's very interesting is how different the discussion about decarbonisation is in the wake of the energy price spike that we've had at the end of COVID, and because of Russia's horrible invasion of Ukraine. Because the discussion... it's not enough now just to talk about clean this and clean that, and decarbonize; we also have to understand that a just transition actually keeps the energy prices low throughout. You can't just have a model that says, well, let's stop investing in fossil, and eventually there'll be a clean solution, and in between, it doesn't matter if the prices go up and so on because it clearly does matter. So, I think we're in a very... So, having somebody who can straddle from an oil company to clean energy, to me, is very interesting, very timely. I don't know if that's going to be persuasive around the world.
NA-H Again, we have seen - you pointed out to the energy crisis - we have seen what happens when only one source of energy is being shut down to countries that have been investing in diversifying the energy mix for years now. And we still globally have a huge energy access challenge; I know you've posted Damilola [Ogunbiyi], and I know you spoke about the goals of Sustainable Energy for All. And we're still speaking about energy access; we're still speaking about providing renewables; and we're still looking at energy efficiency. But it is not... Energy transition is a journey. You cannot just turn off a switch and turn on another switch; we are still moving in that direction, but it is still a journey. And we need to do it in a very just and inclusive way.
ML So, you're right, decarbonisation is a journey, and we have to think about the pathway to get off fossil and off the emissions, and onto the clean. And can you talk us through specifically that journey, as regards the UAE? Because if we go back to the early days - we're talking, I don't know, around 2010 - there was this target, that UAE would have 7% of its electricity from renewables. And I don't know if it was UAE, or I think it was Dubai first, and then Abu Dhabi said... But they were very modest numbers. And I was sitting there thinking, hang on a second, it's really, really sunny down there, and why can't they be much, much more ambitious? And you've mentioned it yourself now: UAE has a target of net zero by 2050 for its own energy use. What has that journey been like from the first moves towards renewables, to net zero?
NA-H Well, let's talk about what the UAE is doing. So, you know very well that the UAE is a first mover on sustainability, climate innovation and climate action. And, we've seen this happening very early in the 2000s. The UAE is the first country in the region to sign and ratify the Paris Agreement. It's the first country in the region to commit to an economy wide reduction in emissions. Our energy strategy in 2017, the target was 50% clean energy in the total energy mix by 2050. We are one of only 29 countries that submitted a revised nationally-determined contribution ahead of COP27. We are the first country in the region to announce net zero by 2050 strategic initiatives. Our net zero by 2050 strategic initiative is a clear, natural next step in our growth trajectory that directly aligns [with] the UAE's development vision for the next 50 years to create new knowledge, new industries, new skills and new jobs. So yes, we started with humble numbers, because we always like to over-deliver. And even the 7% that you mentioned, that was the target for Dubai; actually, Dubai reached that, over-delivered on that target by the year that they said they were going to do it. But now we are again, as we speak, our Ministry of Energy is revising our strategy. Because I mentioned in 2017, we announced that we're going, we will have 50% by 2050. This is now being revised and our new strategy is going to be announced, soon before the COP28. So, so much has been happening, and is happening, as a very pragmatic, a very systematic approach. We understand, because when we started Masdar, we had huge expectations about how technology is gonna catch up. We actually created the Masdar plan with expectations of certain efficiencies that did not materialize. So, we wanted to be sure that, we're not promising what we don't know if we can deliver. Now, because of the work that Masdar has been doing, investing in [cutting] edge technologies with some very brave and bold partners; now, renewable is becoming commercially competitive for us in the UAE for solar, for example. This is why now the UAE has three of the largest, lowest cost solar plants in the world - not in the region, in the world, and we are investing in more. We are, our global, investment is more than $50 billion in renewables around the world; we are in more than 70 countries. But in the UAE itself, we are now having, let me give you some examples of the plants that we have in the UAE. We haven't Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park: it's the largest site, solar park in the world based on the independent power producer model. The production capacity is planned to be 5000 megawatts by 2030. With investment and $50 billion, this is just one side, and when it's completed, it will save over 6.5 million tonnes of carbon emissions. In Abu Dhabi, we have Al Dhafra Solar Park. Dhafra is actually going to be the world's largest single site for solar power, using 3.5 million solar panels to generate enough electricity for 160,000 people. Then we have Noor, which is going to, again, power around 195,000. So, we started maybe in a modest scale, maybe. But I don't think it was very modest because when we started we didn't have to do it; we did it because we wanted to do it; we were not mandated by any global protocol to invest in renewables or decarbonisation. We did that because we have a visionary leadership that wanted to ensure that we are not only diversifying our economy, we are diversifying our energy mix, so we can secure our own energy sources, but we are also maintaining our leadership in the energy sector. The UAE was a leader in the oil and gas sector; we want to maintain leadership in the energy sector. And as you know very well, and as I always heard, and I came and attended the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit to know the trends, and the fastest growing sector in energy was renewables. So, the UAE definitely wanted to be part of that trend as we moved forward. So, it is something that has been done based on a very pragmatic approach and working on it steadily. And we already have clear roadmaps and [are] mobilizing all our entities as we move towards this target.
ML So you are... the new targets that you announced, you've committed to net zero 2050. One big piece of your activities is about the UAE eliminating its emissions. And you're also building as you describe this big business, energy business investment, $50 billion overseas. How do you answer critics who say, look, for one and a half degrees, it's not just enough for some countries to reach net zero in 2050, all of them have to. And that means you shouldn't be selling oil or gas after 2050. You'll be a wealthy country, big energy business around the world. Why do you need to continue to sell oil and gas beyond 2050?
NA-H Michael, the day we're going to export our last barrel of oil for us will be a day of celebration. But it has to be the day that the whole world is ready to live without it. We cannot stop production if the world still needs... We are a responsible energy producer - energy producer - and we are a responsible nation and global energy security is very high on our agenda. So, for the UAE, we are putting every strategy in place with very rapid plans to implement it, to ensure that when these days come, we are going to be celebrating. This is actually a commitment from - at that point he was the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, now he's the president of the UAE - that is a statement he said in the World Government Summit a few years ago. He said, when this day comes, for us, it's going to be a day of celebration, because we will be ready.
ML Let's move to COP28, let's get back. If we can just dive in a little bit, bring some of these threads together. What does good look like? On the last day of COP, or the day after maybe after a good night's sleep, because I'm pretty sure you'll be busy. What would good look like for COP, for UAE, for IRENA? Because, of course, your main role will be to represent and to help IRENA achieve its goals. What does good look like?
NA-H I think good would be that, reflecting back, people would say that COP was a solutions cup; that COP was [an] outcomes cup; that COP actually succeeded in fostering consensus on the best and fastest way forward. So, building consensus on all our targets: mitigation, adaptation and operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund. So, you know, that would be something that we would celebrate. So, if we look into adaptation, we are looking into setting the conditions to deliver our global goal of doubling adaptation finance up to $40 billion. For Loss and Damage, prioritization of support to the most vulnerable countries. And finance, clearly, we want to make sure that we scale and approve the climate finance, and something that we are all working towards, which is international financial reform. The UAE is definitely going to be committed to a very innovative multilateral process and to drive both private sector engagement, disclosure and accountability, and maintaining our legacy of sustainability that we see from even the choice of the venue; you mentioned at the beginning that COP28 will be hosted in Dubai. COP 28 will be hosted in Expo Dubai, which is a site that has... An event has been working towards connecting minds and creating a future for all. So, sustainability has been the mindset when we designed Expo City and having COP28 hosted there is definitely a very clear message on what we what we intend to do.
ML What I saw one piece of coverage about a specific cooling initiative; cooling sustainably to help over 1 billion people, that by focusing on sustainable cooling, that the transition could be made cheaper by three and a half trillion dollars. Has that started to flesh out? Is that something that that you and IRENA have been working on?
NA-H Yes. This actually feeds into what I just said: there's so many initiatives and targets and areas that have not been taking forefront in COP discussions, and that is one of them. So yes, this is an initiative that is now... The Cooling Association with the UN and IRENA are working together, and we believe that there will be some very concrete solutions. Again, in partnership with the private sector and financial institutions, and we are looking forward to see the results as we build up to COP28 We are calling it, our tagline for that is 'it's going to be a cool COP'
ML A cool cop and a good cop! Instead of good cop, bad cop, you'll have good COP, cool COP. Because one of the things that was exciting about, I think it was in Glasgow, for the first time they talked about phasing down coal, and then in COP27 in Egypt, for the first time, a lot of wording around energy efficiency. And so maybe this is part of a trend where the individual important sectors are actually getting the attention they need.
NA-H Yes, I'll just give you an example. One of the things that we are now also working with, with the teams to position and shed a very big spotlight on, is the offshore wind. So, we are looking into, again, the Global Alliance for Offshore Wind, and they're gonna have a pretty good positioning when it comes to COP28, and working towards solutions. So, back to what we said in the beginning, COP28 is going to be solutions COP. Solutions COP needs to be targeting and focused on challenges. And that's basically the story of how the UAE is doing things. We identify a challenge, and then we need to find the solutions to it, and this is where the opportunities come from. So, we're looking to specific technologies, specific sectors, and giving them a platform to provide solutions for that.
ML I very much like that approach. You know, I've sat through a lot of sessions around the world - actually, also in Abu Dhabi - where people have said, we need more finance. And at some point, you've got to say, for what? The finance has to assemble around solutions. So, it sounds - you've used the word a number of times today - pragmatic, to actually start from the solutions, and then work back to some of the finance and so on. So, I'm looking forward to it, it sounds like it's going to be a good COP, in the sense of moving the agenda forwards.
NA-H And technologies, Michael, because finance is important, yes, but technology is extremely, extremely important. And you know that more than anybody. We've looked into that with New Energy Finance. And unless technologies are being available, and also advancing in the same scale that is ambitious, we're not going to be able to reach because, you know... There is an increasing energy demand globally, that's not going to stop. There is an increasing population globally, hopefully, that's not going to stop. And, it doesn't matter how much we are investing in supply: unless we have technologies that are going to address demand, and we have demand-side management in different sectors and industries, cooling, building, etc. and all those pillars, we are not going to get to 1.5 degrees. We definitely need advancement in technologies, and that's why we look into COP as [a] COP of opportunities. Because with technology's advancement, you create jobs, you create talent, you create new know-how, and that's why we say we need to cut emissions, not growth. We need to cut emissions, but we should not cut growth, because we need that growth to create those opportunities.
ML Dr Nawal, I can't let you go without touching on one final issue or topic or area that we've worked on together, and that is gender. So, there's an initiative which you were very involved in setting up called WISER. That's Women in Sustainability, Energy and Renewables, and also Dr. Sultan was very instrumental in setting it up. Can you describe what is it, how does it work for the audience?
NA-H So WISER is meant to ensure that we are... You know, just before we went online, you mentioned that you were struggling to find female speakers for your podcast. And that has been the challenge that every time we go on a panel and we only find men on those panels, people say there are no women. I was like okay, so let's something about that. If there are no women, let's ensure that there are more women in the sector. And if there are women, and they are not known, maybe we need to position them and we need to connect them, and we need to give them the platform. And this is why WISER was created. So, it was created in a way to empower and engage more women in the sector. And its focusing on different segments of... We look into the youth by giving them opportunities of education and mentorship, but also senior women by giving them opportunities and platforms to connect with the industry. And WISER started a few years back; now, it's become a very important platform for thought leadership; publishing white papers about different topics every year. This year, clearly there was a focus on climate action and the role of gender and how we can have a gender lens when it comes to global solutions, when it comes to climate challenges. So, we have WISER pioneers, and this is basically the women graduates that get to be mentored and have internship opportunities when they start their careers. So., it is a platform for mentorship, for sponsorship, for education. And also, it's basically a place where you can find many, many, many extremely highly talented women who you can tap into to choose from as guests for your panels, and for your podcast.
ML Very good. I feel I have to sort of defend Cleaning Up and the selection of guests, because I don't think I said we're struggling. I said... Let me just give you the process that we've been through over the last sort of two years and a bit doing this. What I did, I made this sort of long list of all the friends of Michael that I would love to have on a podcast. And then I was so committed to the gender agenda that I made sure that I really reached out to the women, and made sure that we had this fantastic... And they were incredible: we had Rachel Kyte, we had Christiana Figueres, we've had Damilola, we've had yourself.
NA-H After two years you thought of me!
ML Well, I'll tell you what, one of the reasons was, as soon as I heard that COP28 was likely to be in Abu Dhabi, I wanted to wait until it was before inviting you on the show, that's actually part of the background. But what happened is we accelerated quite a few of the women to be in the first... I was planning four seasons, five seasons, suddenly we're in season eight. And yeah, I need to reach out to more women, I realize that, because if you look at this season, and the end of last season, far too many men, and not enough of these incredible, brilliant women leaders who I absolutely know, are out there. And I can assure you, we'll be reaching out and bringing them in with your help and the help of WISER.
NA-H Absolutely, absolutely. You know, I think it's very important and jokes aside, you know, we've known each other for so many years. And one of the things that has been very important for both of us as champions for this cause is ensuring, women empowerment and engagement of women in this sector. We've looked into that, even if you remember with the Zayed Sustainability Prize, when we realized that we were not having enough woman candidates. So, you know, we reached out and we ensured that even when we go and film the finalists or the winners, that there is clear representation of women there, because again, this picture shows the importance of having these equal opportunities for all, so, it's something that is very, very important for me personally, but also for the UAE's leadership. And as you see now we have, we have so many extremely powerful, very important and very talented women in our cabinet, and our General Council, but also the two champions we have for the COP are both extremely talented women. We have our Minister of Youth who is now the High-Level Champion for youth, Her Excellency Razan who is the president of ICUN, and also she is the Executive Director of the Abu Dhabi Environmental Agency. She's now our High-Level Champion for climate. So, you know, very proud of them and I know that around the world, we have so many women doing so many fantastic things that they need to be recognized for. But what is important is that they are part of this conversation. Our lead negotiator for the UAE is a young female and she's a phenomena lady. But also, her being there and the UAE delegation having a huge number of female negotiators is something that is very important for us.
ML And many of them mentored by you. Some of my happiest memories of visits to the UAE was working with your team, which was almost exclusively women, on the Zayed Prize when I was helping the jury.
NA-H Still the case!
ML Now, it only really remains for me to thank you again for your time with us today. It's been wonderful catching up. You've got a busy year ahead of you; if there's anything that I can do in the run up to COP28, I will certainly be there, if I can be useful. And I look forward to working on all of those agendas. And I've got to be honest, particularly on the last one. Maybe I can make amends for the fact that we've had a run of men on Cleaning Up by making sure that I am doing whatever I can to help WISER's agenda, as I'm sure it has a packed agenda that it will be pursuing during COP28.
NA-H Absolutely. Well, we cannot do that alone, we appreciate it, and understand the importance of partnership and reaching out to subject matter experts everywhere. And you have been a friend and a colleague and a partner on many platforms, and we will definitely reach out to you.
ML Thank you very much. Thank you for joining us today.
NA-H Thank you for having me.