UAE joins China, Ireland and Norway in the Club of States with Vision to a Sustainable Future

March 22, 2016

Last month I was invited to speak at the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Group’s (ADSG) Annual Summit. It was fascinating, mainly because the ADSG and related bodies, such as the Pearl Initiative, have an extraordinary challenge ahead of them: to transition the UAE from an economy and society addicted to cheap oil and gas and living a 4+ planets lifestyle, into one that is sustainable.

This challenge has been made all the more urgent by the low oil price and the fact that in January, the government of the UAE held a “retreat to develop a strategy for the post-oil world.” 

As His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince said: “The UAE seeks to become a model state that succeeds in transforming the economy from relying on natural resources into relying on the skills and minds of its citizens. The post-oil transformation will be a turning point in our history as Emiratis. Success in this transformation is our only option.”

This challenge is difficult enough, knowing the obvious and extraordinary dependence the Emirates has on oil, but it is made doubly difficult when you consider that 80%+ of the population are not citizens (ex-pats of one sort or another) and that unemployment amongst Emiratis runs in to double digit % and in some areas at up to 40%.

"The post-oil transformation will be a turning point in our history as Emiratis. Success in this transformation is our only option."

There is though real vision, commitment and leadership from the top to make the change and a willingness to innovate to get there. Almost immediately after the retreat, the government announced the setting up of 3 new ministries for Youth, Tolerance and Happiness. 

And you only have to look out of your hotel window at the ultra-modern metropolis, or visit clean, green Masdar City, knowing it was all desert and sea just 10 years ago, to realize that this is a country with the will, the vision and critically the financial resources to make things happen quickly when they want to.

In this respect, the UAE reminds me of 3 other countries whose leadership have shown unusual clarity of vision for change. They make odd bedfellows:

China with its ruthlessly implemented and ambitious clean energy, 5 year plans that are beginning to leave the west behind
Ireland with its Origin Green strategy for making its food exports (which are its exports) the most sustainable in the world
Norway for how it is purposefully investing its oil revenues in skills and technology for a non-oil future.

And now the UAE joins their club.