UN meeting discusses policy and financial measures at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week
Massive deployment of low-carbon energy is both vital and economical, a high-level United Nations meeting concluded at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week on Thursday.
Hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), and the Habitat III Secretariat, the meeting sets the agenda for October’s UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (known as Habitat III), the third in a series of UN summits held only once every 20 years on sustainable urbanisation.
The thematic meeting in Abu Dhabi recommended a number of policy, technology, and financing measures in the format of a final declaration, covering energy sectors like electricity generation, building and appliance codes, transport, heating and cooling, and waste-to-energy.
“We have long known that cities are the most critical arena for climate action, and that energy is the underpinning factor,” said Ambassador Thani Al Zeyoudi, director of Energy and Climate Change at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “But what we are seeing today is a major shift in the cost equation. Energy policy measures we have taken in UAE cities like encouragement of rooftop solar and mandatory green building codes – are no longer just environmentally responsible, they are now financially attractive.”
The Abu Dhabi meeting took place in the backdrop of last year’s landmark Paris agreement on climate change, as well as the UN’s adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, which call for universal access to energy and set new global targets on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Urban areas form the critical link between the two global efforts, as they represent over 70 per cent of global energy consumption and an equivalent amount of energy-related CO2 emissions. Dramatic cost reductions in low-carbon energy like an 80 per cent decline in solar photovoltaic costs in the last five years are widely cited as one of the promising changes in the urban landscape since Habitat II in 1996 that can deliver major carbon and economic gains.
“Renewable energy, together with energy efficiency, is the backbone of a sustainable energy future,” said Adnan Amin, director-general of Irena. “It is already embraced by thousands of cities around the world that are not waiting, but taking control of their energy future for benefit of all. Habitat III is a timely opportunity to emphasise this message and enshrine it in the global urban agenda.”
At the meeting, ministers, national and city government officials, researchers, private sector and other civil society representatives reviewed each major energy sector and debated what scale of change could realistically be achieved on the road to enactment of the Paris agreement in 2020 and the expiration of the SDGs in 2030. Case studies from London, Lyon, and China’s Vanke, the world’s largest real estate developer – provided additional context.
“Habitat III must be a turning point in the way cities use and consume energy,” said Dr Joan Clos, secretary-general of the Habitat III Conference. “Today’s meeting in Abu Dhabi provides an outline for the transition to sustainable energy in cities, backed by a clear business case, in the path towards a New Urban Agenda. Our priority must be educating urban stakeholders about the new market opportunities they have, while helping them to meet the right suppliers, advisors, and investors to realize their energy and climate goals.”
Dr Clos emphasised the great and urgent need to include local authorities in the generation, distribution and consumption of energy, particularly because climate agreements will be incredibly difficult to achieve without integrating local and municipal authorities in decision making.
Habitat III will take place on October 17-20 in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and is expected to be one of the most significant international events of the year. In the lead-up to the summit, the UN is organizing regional and thematic meetings to develop the agenda, with a focus on potential commitments. The meeting in Abu Dhabi, considered as the Habitat III Thematic Meeting on Sustainable Energy and Cities, marks the official preparation on urban energy. In addition, during this week an online consultation on the topic — held in the official Habitat III site — is contributing to the discussion.