UAE’s fossil-fuelled high-tech mirage of a green future read full article at

Barreling down a freeway in direction of Abu Dhabi at 4am nonetheless groggy from my flight, the motive force casually waved his palms in direction of a flickering within the distance. As we swerved across the bend a lone windmill appeared. Its blades blasting crimson, blue, and inexperienced lasers down on a post-apocalyptic junkyard. Framing the sun-stricken wreckage (apparently a themed restaurant) was an indication flashing the phrases: The Final Exit.

A becoming omen, I believed, if a bit on the nostril, as a result of I used to be invited to attend the official launch occasion of the UN Local weather Summit (COP28) hosted in Dubai later this 12 months. And lots of contemplate it humanity’s final probability to kickstart local weather motion and forestall the world from wanting like this restaurant.

  • The Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week was targeted on high-tech options for the power disaster. (Picture: Wester van Gaal)

When the invitation got here, I wasn’t certain I ought to go. A tech-focused enterprise occasion conceived in 2006 to brush up the green credentials of a petrostate appeared like a doubtful factor to spend my time on. However I had been in search of a solution to study from our non-EU Eurasian compatriots how they understand the world wherein we now dwell, so I made a decision to make the leap.

Metropolis of the Future

A number of hours later and even groggier, a bus took me on a guided tour to Masdar metropolis, Abu Dhabi’s sustainable quarter named after the gulf state’s large renewable power firm at whose behest I used to be right here. Development of Masdar metropolis began in 2006. It was supposed to deal with 50,000 residents and function a mannequin for a zero-carbon metropolis and revolutionise occupied with the constructed setting.

However the residents by no means got here, and it has now been revamped as a start-up valley.

The one path to get there may be by freeway which cuts by Khalifa metropolis, a walled-off working-class neighbourhood subdivided by blocks of similar sand-coloured buildings. On the opposite facet of the freeway, skyscrapers and beachside resorts towered over the low-rise — a mannequin of how to not design a metropolis. “It’s where all the taxi drivers live,” the bus driver from Pakistan instructed me. “Five per room. No privacy. But it’s okay, sir. There is no corruption.”

Masdar Metropolis was fully empty after I arrived.

Masdar Metropolis was designed as modest-sized metropolis of fifty,000 residents and 40,000 commuters, however the undertaking by no means took off (Picture:

Western-looking cafés and eating places have been all open for enterprise, however there was no clientele in sight. And one restaurant nonetheless had worth tags on its furnishings.

Not like just about each different a part of Abu Dhabi, Masdar Metropolis is made for strolling. There may be additionally a small fleet of driverless pods that ferry folks round, however with occupation charges at very low ranges (just a few thousand folks work right here in the course of the week), this has reportedly been scrapped.

I’m wondering why they’ve taken me to a spot that by the appears of it has failed so completely. However apparently, US president Joe Biden had visited when he was vp to Barack Obama. “Terribly impressed,” he later tweeted. “A true green print for cities of the future.”

To the moon

After checking some extra eating places for worth tags, I used to be ushered right into a showroom full of scrumptious Arabian, French and American snacks. An African man whose job it was to open the door welcomed me. A South-Asian-looking man whose job it was to push the button for espresso gave me espresso. And males carrying white Kandura’s, all administrators at Masdar, sat at a big desk listening.

“We’re going to send graphene to the moon, all right?” an American man mentioned with confidence. He held a bucket of gray matter rigorously taped shut. I had seen it earlier than.

Graphene was first remoted in 2004, and attributable to its properties — it is 200 occasions stronger than metal and does not weigh a factor—it was envisioned to revolutionise building and drastically convey down the environmental influence of cement. The EU even launched a €1bn Graphene Flagship in 2013, hoping to win “the global graphene race.”

A view from Masdar Metropolis (Picture: Wester van Gaal)

Almost twenty years later, it nonetheless holds that promise however has but to show its price. To not say it will not, however breakthrough applied sciences have a means of not fairly breaking by for many years. Fusion is one other instance. So is inexperienced hydrogen.

That’s the reason I used to be barely unnerved to study that the UAE desires to develop into a worldwide chief in inexperienced hydrogen and desires to make use of the UN Local weather Summit as a launching pad for this ambition.

Inexperienced hydrogen has been described because the “swiss army knife” of the transition and can be utilized to wash up sure forms of industrial manufacturing processes. However excessive prices have prevented its growth, and like graphene, it does not exist but exterior of some pilot initiatives.

Learn up on the UAE’s hydrogen technique here.

Going all in on inexperienced hydrogen might assist scale up the know-how. Nevertheless it’s a high-risk gamble, and the overtly business nature of this 12 months’s summit has raised some hairs amongst local weather advocates.

Blue lasers

Because it seems, Europeans and Emiratis view planetary collapse by a unique lens—demarcated by the truth that the EU goes by an power disaster and the gulf states are experiencing the primary oil growth in over a decade.

It was subsequently maybe unsurprising when Sultan Al Jaber, an Emirati oil CEO who had just been elected director of COP28, emphasised financial alternative on the opening occasion. “We all share the same climate,” he mentioned towards the background of an enormous blue tree manufactured from lasers. “But I believe we can turn the greatest challenge we face into the opportunity of our lifetimes.”

To attain a “just transition for all,” he mentioned, the UAE aimed to set out a path to a “high-growth destination” and make investments its petro-profits in “breakthrough” applied sciences.

To my ears, it appeared fairly fundamental ‘fixing issues by progress and innovation’ fare, however the gulf state has set a tough goal: 100 gigawatts of inexperienced power by 2030 (a couple of quarter of the EUs present photo voltaic and wind capability), 25 % of which will probably be used to create ‘inexperienced hydrogen.’

And in accordance with secretary-general of the World Power Discussion board Angela Wilkinson, probably the most highly effective voices in power, Al Jaber is the actual deal and a “visionary leader.”

Though Wilkinson admits “throwing money and technology at the problem” is not going to resolve all the problems — the UAE has not dedicated to phase-out fossil fuels — she suggests Europe and the US might use their monetary clout as leverage to get the World South together with petrostates to extend their ambition. “Global leadership is about learning what other countries aim for and what their stories are, not dominating them and telling them what the answer is,” she mentioned.

Reverse emissions?

A part of UAE’s story is that it desires to “reverse emissions” and develop oil manufacturing on the similar time, which is why many local weather advocates have sounded the alarm.

Within the coming years, the gulf state has earmarked $127bn [€116bn] in new fossil-fuel manufacturing, which can improve output from 4 to 5 million barrels per day by 2027.

UAE officers insist they’ll compensate for these newly-created emissions by exporting renewables and inexperienced hydrogen. However this declare is not supported by the Worldwide Power Company, and local weather advocates have pointed out there’s nothing new about petrostates hedging on renewables whereas maximising oil income.

In Sharm el Sheikh throughout COP27, petrostates made certain the phasing out of oil and fuel couldn’t be mentioned and held it off the official agenda. However corruption or cynicism might not inform the complete story. It is also concern. “Without oil, we have nothing,” a delegate from a gulf state instructed me.

The issue is that it does not matter. In a widely-shared rant, former US vp Al Gore speaking (or yelling) on the World Financial Discussion board in Davos, Switzerland, final week, reminded the room the planet solely offers in onerous limits and irreversible tipping factors. There is no such thing as a room for tales and excuses, he mentioned: “We have got to stop using our atmosphere as a sewer.”


On my means again, I appeared out for The Final Exit. I had realized the windmill overlooking the rust-and-petrol-themed restaurant was a duplicate of a Nineteenth-century mannequin produced by the Aermotor Windmill Firm.

The corporate nonetheless exists and is now owned by a gaggle of fiercely patriotic west Texas rangers. Though a small participant within the power sport these days, when it was first launched within the Eighties it reworked rural life in america. First as an irrigation machine and later as a supply of electrical energy, till it was made out of date by the onslaught of low-cost oil and fuel by the mid-Twentieth century.

It made me consider the little-known prehistory of renewables that existed earlier than the fossil period. Just like the solar-energy machine that impressed judges on the 1878 World Exposition in Paris by creating ice with the ability of the solar; like early electrical automobiles that outcompeted petrol-driven fashions and have been unfold extensively sufficient to have had their very own ‘golden age,’ low-cost modular Aermotor windmills inform the story of a historical past interrupted.

As a schooled historian, I’ve discovered historical past can act as an antidote for hype, and I used to be reminded to not put an excessive amount of credence into the necessity for breakthrough applied sciences to avoid wasting the day. We have now however to select up the thread that has been there all alongside. Though if we had, the United Arab Emirates most probably wouldn’t have existed.

EUobserver was in Abu Dhabi as a part of an expenses-paid journey by Masdar Clear Power.

#europeannews #european_news

About Wester van Gaal

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