The opening of this year’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW, held on Jan. 14-19) coincided with the United Arab Emirates' announcement of its leadership team for the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (28th Conference of the Parties, COP28), set to be held in Dubai later this year. While the nomination of the UAE’s state oil company CEO, Dr. Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, sparked considerable controversy, it also brought global attention to his opening remarks at ADSW. In his speech, Jaber — who simultaneously serves as the minister of industry and advanced technology as well as heads a leading renewable energy entity — synthesized today’s sustainable development struggles by expressing how, “we need to reverse emissions while moving economies forward, enable an inclusive and just transition that leaves no-one behind.” He also clearly stated the objective of the upcoming COP event: “A COP where we move from goals to getting it done across mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage. And a COP where we deliver a new deal on climate finance.”

The following days of the conference addressed most of these challenges, focusing on both adaptation strategies and mitigation actions. There were exhibitions and debates about urban pollution and smart cities, water-related issues and desalination, the circular economy and waste management, and technology and innovation. The event highlighted the need for a rapid deployment of renewable generation capacities in both developed and developing regions, while also scaling up additional tools, such as green hydrogen, to bring us closer to the 2050 objectives. Furthermore, the panelists and participants unanimously agreed on the need to keep up the momentum on methane emissions and continue the efforts started at COP26. One of the strategic pillars for the Masdar Institute, the UAE’s main body for clean and innovative technologies and investments, is youth engagement in the energy transition process, and so youth voices were provided a dedicated platform during the 2023 ADSW, bringing decision-makers closer to the next generation of energy and climate leaders.

One day after the closing of the 2023 ADSW, UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced that 2023 will be the UAE’s “Year of Sustainability,” which will include several projects and events focused on “environmental sustainability by inspiring collective action.” The initiative, which is another milestone on the road to COP28, is also a further attempt by the UAE to prove its commitment to sustainability and positioning itself as a leader on global climate action.

While climate-related anxiety and impatience have reached critical levels among many stakeholders, climate action takes time. The idea that change can be made overnight is utopian and can only be detrimental to everyone involved, whether that be citizens, climate activists, businesses, or public authorities. Moreover, expecting more than well-crafted, unanimously approved plans or honest pledges from any COP event is aspirational at best. However, judging by the foundation established during this year’s ADSW and building on the efforts begun by the UAE in previous years, the upcoming COP28 has all the ingredients to bring together — perhaps even more so than other recent COPs — relevant stakeholders and deliver on its promises. Whether this will materialize or not remains to be seen, however. ETA: 10 months.


Andrei Covatariu is an international energy and climate change expert and a Non-Resident Scholar with the Climate and Water Program at the Middle East Institute.

Photo courtesy of the author.

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