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Interview

H.E. Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi – Minister of Climate Change and Environment, UAE

The UAE minister of climate change and environment discusses emerging energy diversification, engaging the private sector and academia, and shifting the rhetoric around climate change from ‘threat’ to ‘opportunity.’

You stepped into the position of Minister of Climate Change and Environment one year ago during a fundamental re-shuffling of the UAE Cabinet. Reflecting on the past year, how has the transition progressed?

“There has never been a more exciting time for the United Arab Emirates. We are innovating to strengthen our existing industries and moving into new ones.”

There has never been a more exciting time for the United Arab Emirates. We are innovating to strengthen our existing industries and moving into new ones. We are investing in our nationals, and preparing them to lead and prosper in the 21st century.

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment is an important part of this vision. Our job is to address the most pressing issue of our generation in a way that makes economic sense, and to protect the most important components of our cultural heritage. To achieve this, we have laid the groundwork for comprehensive and ambitious action on climate change and the environment this region has ever witnessed.

When we spoke last year, you said: “One of our new areas of focus will be the engagement of the private sector and academia because a focus on innovation, research and development is essential.” What progress have you made in this regard? Are there any interesting examples of this type of collaboration that you would like to highlight?

In May 2016, MOCCAE established the Emirates Committee for Sustainable Environment Research that brings together the country’s leading experts to design a comprehensive climate change and environment research strategy to support evidence-based policy-making. We also initiated regular engagements with the business community on specific environmental topics, enabling the Ministry to better respond to the needs of businesses and help unlock capital to drive sustainable actions.

One of these platforms is the Environment and Business Majlis, which aims to bolster collaboration with the private sector. The Majlis also seeks to create new investment opportunities for the private sector in the environmental sphere.

The National Environmental Education and Awareness Strategy 2015-2021 outlines one of its top priorities as follows: “Educate youth to drive the UAE towards a sustainable future.” In your capacity as Minister of Climate Change and Environment, how are you engaging with the UAE’s youth to work towards this goal?

Youth play a crucial role in addressing climate change and ensuring a sustainable future. Here in the UAE, we have prioritized youth engagement at the highest levels, including by appointing the world’s youngest minister, Shamma Al Mazrui, who is tasked with the important role of representing youth within the UAE federal cabinet and decision-making. The Ministry holds regular youth circles in cooperation with the Emirates Youth Council headed by H.E. Shamma Al Mazrui, where we engage with youth and hear about their concerns, contributions and innovative ideas.

When it comes to climate change specifically, we have launched a number of key initiatives and platforms which target youth. Our delegations to the annual UN Climate Change Conference always include youth representatives and students. By engaging in these important meetings and negotiations, our youth act as ambassadors for the UAE, and also contribute to their own learning and capacity building.

We are also working to bring in climate change and sustainability issues into school curriculums. Our aim is to teach schoolchildren from all ages about the science of climate change, and the actions they can take, such as turning off lights and air-conditioning when not in use, and how to use less water. In addition, we are implementing programs to train teachers and faculties how to effectively teach these important issues and to best practice sustainability.

In December 2016, you stated: “The opportunities have never been greater. The challenge for us now is to take advantage of them.” What are the key opportunities you are focusing on in 2017, and how do you plan to leverage them?

The discussion around climate change needs to shift its focus from threats to opportunities, and develop frameworks and tools that inspire, activate and mobilize all segments of society, especially the business sector.

Our National Climate Change Action Plan 2017-2050 is a key example of this. Building on the UAE Green Agenda 2015-2030, approved by the Cabinet in January 2015, the plan will outline concrete steps to mainstream climate change mitigation and adaptation actions, in ways that create more jobs, more growth and increase the resilience of our country.

When we met last year, you highlighted the importance of sharing the UAE’s expertise in the green energy sector on an international level. Can you update our readers on any current initiatives or projects where the UAE is exporting its expertise?

The UAE has a remarkable history, which has seen the country rise to a full-fledged 21st century economy in a single lifetime. This development has been matched by some of the most ambitious clean energy and climate targets – including a goal to achieve 75% clean energy by 2050.

Our climate leadership has extended abroad, most notably through support of other countries, both developed and development. The UAE is a significant investor in clean energy projects internationally – with commercial projects around the world, including in the United States and Europe. We are also a major donor, reaching 1 billion in grants and soft loans for renewable energy, making it a flagship focus for partnerships with developing countries. A key focus of this aid is capacity building, and ensuring we work with UAE companies and technology providers to deliver knowledge and training to local communities, and therefore allow them to build their own industries. A dedicated fund for the Caribbean countries (USD 50 million) was launched in early 2017.

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