Cleaning Up Episode 117 Edited Highlights - Dr. Nawal Al-Hosany

This week on Cleaning Up, Michael welcomed 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.

Michael Liebreich Could you give us a thumbnail sketch of IRENA - which is of course based in the UAE - and then we'll come to your role as Permanent Representative for the UAE?

Dr Nawal Al-Hosany 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; for the organization to drive the conversation to a just and inclusive energy transition. As for my role, like any other Permanent Representative, I need to ensure that the interest of my country is protected, but I also contribute to the policy debates and the strategic development of the organization as an active member state. This year, naturally, it's very important for both IRENA and the region having COP hosted in the UAE.

Michael Liebreich There's a lot of buzz out there in the press saying, saying, why is COP28 going to a petro-state like UAE? And why is the head of the national oil company running it? Are you getting some of that pushback, or not?

Dr Nawal Al-Hosany Michael, we are very used to a lot of criticism of so many things we do. Dr. Sultan has more than two decades of leadership experience in government, climate policy, renewable energy. He served as a Special Envoy for Climate Change for two terms. He brokered the US-UAE Partnership to Accelerate Clean Energy to catalyze $100 billion for clean energy globally. Even as ADNOC’s CEO, he's spearheading investment of $15 billion over five years in decarbonisation strategy. It's going to be an amazing opportunity to see how, as a CEO who is leading a successful business, Dr. Sultan is going to lead this COP in the same mindset, and foster consensus among the international community. I'm very excited about it, because I don't think we can see a just energy transition without engaging everybody, specifically the private sector. We still globally have a huge energy access challenge. We're still speaking about energy access, we're still speaking about providing renewables, and we're still looking at energy efficiency, but 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.

Michael Liebreich 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?

Dr Nawal Al-Hosany 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. The UAE has three of the largest, lowest cost solar plants in the world and we are investing in more. Our global investment is more than $50 billion in renewables around the world, in more than 70 countries. When we started, we didn't have to do it; we were not mandated by any global protocol to invest in renewables or decarbonisation. The UAE was a leader in the oil and gas sector; we want to maintain leadership in the energy sector.

Michael Liebreich How do you answer critics who say, look, for 1.5 degrees, it's not just enough for some countries to reach net zero in 2050, all of them have to. Why do you need to continue to sell oil and gas beyond 2050?

Dr Nawal Al-Hosany 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 are a responsible 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.

Michael Liebreich What would good look like for COP, for UAE, for IRENA?

Dr Nawal Al-Hosany I think good would be that, reflecting back, people would say that that COP was a solutions cup, that COP actually succeeded in fostering. Clearly, we want to make sure that we scale and approve climate finance, and something that we are all working towards, which is international financial reform.  But Michael, finance is important, yes, but technology is extremely important. There is increasing energy demand globally, there is an increasing population globally. 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, we are not going to get to 1.5 degrees. 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.

Michael Liebreich Dr Nawal, I can't let you go without touching on one final issues 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.

Dr Nawal Al-Hosany The challenge we’ve faced has been 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, 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. 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.