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Green energy revolution in the Gulf?

Sustainable architecture – “Wendy”, a structure with a coating that cleans up the air when the sun shines, showcased in Abu Dhabi this week

“Everybody who’s anybody“in the world of renewables, climate and sustainability seems to be putting in an appearance here in the oil-rich emirate Abu Dhabi this week. Sustainability Week, as it’s dubbed, started off with a meeting of the International Renewable Energy Agency IRENA, which has its headquarters here. The announcement that China is applying for full membership this year was one of the highlights of the top-level meeting.

Today, at the start of the World Future Energy Summit, I’ve heard top-level speakers including French premier Francois Hollande, German environment minister Peter Altmaier, EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegard and others addressing the international audience (3,000 delegates, 30,00 visitors expected by the organizers in the course of the week). Germany in particular comes off very well, with people talking about the “Energiewende”, or energy transformation in progress there and the rapid development of renewable energy.

But the really fascinating thing for me is the feeling that the Gulf states seem to be getting serious at last about getting into renewables. There’s a lot of international interest in their motives. Abu Dhabi’s wealth, for instance, is clearly based on oil revenue. There is no sign that that is about to change in the near future. Use renewables at home to sell more oil abroad? Well, there is that.

But there is a clear interest in diversification of the energy supply and, of course, the economy. This region doesn’t want to miss out on the global move towards securing energy, water and food security by getting into renewables, (especially solar, for obvious reasons). When it comes to emissions reductions, of course, there is still plenty of scope for debate, which is taking place here at the conferences on a regular basis, at all levels, from the stages to the coffee tables.

Sustainability is the buzzword this week – but is it just a buzzword?

Yesterday I visited Shams1, the world’s biggest single-unit CSP (concentrated solar power) plant, with a capacity of 100 MW, set to open very soon (although no-one was willing to confirm the actual date). It’s a huge project, with lines of mirrors as far as the eye can see. It could power 20,000 homes when it’s ready. Tomorrow, I’ll be having a look at Masdar city.

Director of Masdar Clean Energy Bader Al Lamki at Shams1

Qatar is also increasing its solar activities, as we’ve reported on DW recently. “Leading by example”, is how Hedegard described the Masdar initiative in her keynote.

But one of the most interesting issues today was a talk by Saudi Arabia’s deputy industry Minister Khalid al Sueiman about their targets for renewables. 30% of electricity generation by 2032 certainly sounds like a move in the right direction. So is the country once known as a key blocker of climate agreements and emissions reduction commitments turning over a new leaf? The motivation, the minister says, is to make the oil go further. The international media were pushing hard for more information from the Saudi expert. “We need encouragement, don’t push us too hard”, was an unofficial comment I heard from one of his aides.

I talked to Professor Jeffrey Sachs, renowned expert from the Earth Institute, Columbia University in the USA about this. He was giving a keynote speech here and launching the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (too hard to define right now).

He says he really does have the feeling positive things are happening here in the Gulf region.

The mega energy-event is sponsored by Exxon Mobile, incidentally. Oil companies preparing to shift to renewables? “I’ll believe it when I see it”, says Professor Sachs. But more on all that later. Things are certainly moving.

Ice blogger by one of the giant Shams1 mirrors. Impressive.

Date

January 15, 2013 | 2:08 pm

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China to step up polar activities in 2013

Chinese Arctic Station in Ny Alesund, Spitsbergen

Chinese Arctic Station in Ny Alesund, Spitsbergen

I am finding people increasingly interested in the Arctic and Antarctic as climate change opens up more prospects of getting at the natural resources in the region or using it for transport. The latest example of top-level international interest is an announcement by China. Beijing is planning to launch its 30th expedition to the Antarctic region this year as well as its 6th Arctic expedition. This interest is not new, but clearly intensifying. (See China’s Arctic ambitions spark concern).

According to China Daily, quoting a document released at a maritime work conference on Thursday, the country is also planning to build more Antarctic research bases. There are plans to put more resources into planes for scientific expeditions and to “ensure the quality of newly-built icebreakers”.

The paper also refers in particular to “the protection of the country’s strategic interests in the Arctic region”. Now there is some food for thought.

Increasing international political and strategic interest in the Arctic will be on the agenda at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsö, Norway, starting January 21st. Watch this space.

 

Date

January 11, 2013 | 3:16 pm

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Record melt helps first Chinese ship across Arctic

Chinese Arctic Station in Ny Alesund, Spitsbergen

Chinese Arctic Station in Ny Alesund, Spitsbergen

Returning after several trips, I’ve been catching up on the Arctic news and noted with concern but unfortunately not really surprise that the Snow Dragon or Xuelong, a Chinese icebreaker, has become the first ship from China to cross the Arctic Ocean. It arrived in Iceland after sailing the Northern Route, along the coast of Russia. The expedition leader Huigen Yang, head of China’s Polar Research Institute, said he had expected a lot more ice along the route. The sea ice floating on the Arctic Ocean actually seems set to beat the record low from 2007. Clearly, Chinese interest is growing, as the melting ice opens up a shorter sea route and, of course potential access to oil, gas and minerals. The country has applied for observer status at the Arctic Council, which consist of the Arctic countries USA,  Russia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark (because of Greenland) and Iceland.  China is not the only interested party outside the Arctic states. Japan, South Korea, The European Commission and Italy are also applying. Germany, Britain, France, Poland, Spain and the Netherlands are already observers.

What clearer a signal could you get that climate change is affecting the Arctic than interest from the world’s number 2 economy, China, which, alas, is also the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter?

The Arctic sea ice - on the wane

The Arctic sea ice - on the wane (photographed off Greenland)

Date

August 20, 2012 | 12:28 pm

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China and the Arctic – “a public area, just like the moon?

ship in icebergs off Spitsbergen by Irene Quaile

Shipping is already increasing in Arctic waters. I took this one off the coast of Spitsbergen

Now who could come up with a statement like that? It has to come from a country showing a growing interest in the region although it has no Arctic territory. The Chinese premier Wen Jiabao is coming to Europe tomorrow and the Arctic is to be a key focus of his trip. He’ll be spending eight days visiting Iceland, Sweden, Poland and Germany.

There are two main reasons for the Chinese interest: energy, and shipping routes. China is the world’s biggest consumer of energy and greatly interested in the resources becoming more easily accessible through climate change. The retreat of the sea ice is also opening up new routes for shipping in summer, which could cut the sea voyage between Shanghai and northern Europe by around 6,400 km. So there are difficult times ahead for those who want to protect the sensitive Arctic environment and wildlife from increasing traffic and risky exploration for oil, gas and minerals. I wrote about this some time ago, and it’s certainly going to keep coming up:

Arctic Regions Eye Nation’s Potential

 

 

Date

April 19, 2012 | 1:08 pm

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Climate Cup half-full or half-empty?

Following the comments on the New York climate summit in the media is like surfing. Up you go on a wave of optimism, then down into the depths of almost-despair. “Barack Obama warns world of climate catastrophe”, “Obama disappoints environmentalists”, “China’s carbon pledge boosts hope of global climate deal”. My colleague Christina Bergmann, one of our US correspondents, opts for “The Chances for Copenhagen have risen again”. Her optimistic headline reflects Ban Ki Moon’s satisfaction about climate change being right up at the top of the agenda of the world’s leaders. Japan and China also give grounds for optimism, Japan with a clear pledge to reduce emissions by 25 percent by 2020, China with a message of strong intent, but no firm targets.
President Obama is clearly in a difficult position, trying to get backing at home for what would represent a dramatic change in policy. Still, given signs by the top emitters China and the USA, Japan and key emerging nation India that the importance of an effective Copenhagen deal is paramount, we have to be optimistic. As one of the Green candidates in Germany’s election (coming up this Sunday) said to me at an event last week, “we have no option”. The alternative is too awful to contemplate.

Date

September 23, 2009 | 8:24 am

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