A safety net for the planet

By His Excellency Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi


Pep Boatella

A quick global response that brings together governments, businesses, academia and members of the community is the best safety net to stop the planet from crossing the critical climate threshold, writes H.E. Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of Climate Change and Environment.

What happens if planet Earth gets 2°C warmer? What will the future look like? The extreme weather events dominating the news headlines lately — hurricanes, wildfires, and unprecedented heatwaves — are amplified by climate change and serve as a prelude of the shape of things to come in a continuously deteriorating landscape.    

To avoid this bleak outlook, the world must step up the pace and scale of climate ambition and climate action. A swift global response that brings together governments, businesses, academia, and, most importantly, community members — big and small — is the best available safety net to stop the planet from crossing the critical climate threshold. 

Fortunately, technological breakthroughs are progressing at a remarkable speed and are set to play a prominent part in the global response to the climate emergency. 

Anticipating the defining role of innovation in shaping tomorrow’s solutions, in 2016, the UAE Cabinet launched the UAE Strategy For The Future to offers a new approach to planning for the future by predicting, analysing, and implementing highly effective action plans that accelerate development. Among its priority areas are sustainability, the environment, and global climate change.

Within its framework, the UAE drives innovation across the board, particularly in devising trailblazing sustainability solutions. The country has successfully carved a niche for itself as a proactive and future-focused player in leading the conversation on climate change and sustainability. The annual Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) and World Government Summit (WGS) bring together stakeholders from different regions and sectors for solutions-oriented discussions to foster practical action. 

“The world must step up the pace and scale of climate ambition and climate action”

H.E. Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi

As part of its mandate, ADSW features the hugely successful Climate Innovations Exchange (CLIX) forum that connects entrepreneurs and innovators with investors to help drive climate action. Likewise, at WGS 2018, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) launched The Climate Project, aimed at delivering climate initiatives that will improve the lives of 10 million people by 2020. The UAE is also the proud organiser of the global Zayed Sustainability Prize that has directly or indirectly impacted 318 million lives with the sustainability solutions it has facilitated over the course of a decade.

Among other notable mentions, UAE-based AgraME, the region’s largest and longest-running exhibition in the agricultural space, introduced AgraTech, a platform to showcase technological advancements in the sector. Driving innovation in agriculture is key to reducing the sector’s footprint while stepping up food security. 

These are just a few path-breaking initiatives that the UAE government has initiated to chart the country’s journey to sustainability.  

As climate change continues to threaten the world, transcending geographical boundaries and social and economic considerations, harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) for the protection of the environment has emerged as a game-changer. 

MOCCAE has already started employing AI across its operations. In 2018, in line with the UAE Strategy for Artificial Intelligence, the Ministry launched its AI Lab to monitor and analyse levels and sources of air and marine pollution, in addition to identifying concentrated solar power locations that can serve as ideal installation sites for solar panels.

In August 2019, MOCCAE completed phase one of its research project to map agricultural areas across the UAE’s northern emirates using drones. Leveraging AI to analyse the spatial data collected by drones, the Ministry seeks to establish an accurate database of actionable statistical reports to inform decision-making and planning. The move will help optimise the allocation of natural resources and expand sustainable agriculture.

MOCCAE has also collaborated with academia to use AI technologies in building climate change modelling capacities in two main areas: predicting future climate patterns as well as their effects on the UAE and the wider region, and developing a methodology for assessing the socio-economic impact of the country’s climate change policy. The outcomes of the project enable the government to identify gaps to support decision-making and action related to mitigating and adapting to the adverse effects of climate change. 

In the future, AI can play a significant role in driving forward sustainability solutions in clean energy, smart transportation, sustainable production and consumption, smart cities and homes, and precision agriculture. It can also help better forecast and respond to extreme weather events to reduce the damage they inflict on people and property. 

Given the UAE’s predominantly young population, MOCCAE considers youth engagement a key part of its approach to shaping a sustainable future and combating climate change. To ensure that young people are ready for their future roles, the Ministry launched the Emirates Youth Climate Strategy that provides an integrated framework to enhance the role of youth in tackling climate change. It is not surprising to see young people spearheading most of the UAE’s sustainability ventures. After all, they are the ones most likely to be affected by our actions today. 

In keeping with the spirit of the World Majlis and World Expo, the UAE is keen to reinforce its environmental credentials and raise the bar for climate action. We invite the countries of the world to join forces to confront climate change and empower humanity to leapfrog into a tech-enabled sustainable future. Expo 2020 Dubai will serve as a confluence, not just of cultures and minds, but also of great ideas and exceptional leadership.

Together we can, and together we will!