Local Innovation for Low-Carbon Solutions


Dr. Kishan Khoday
Regional Practice Leader for Energy & Environment,
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),
Regional Center in Cairo

Local governments stand on the frontline of the goal to expand the use of sustainable energy and combat climate change. Studies show that 50-80% of investments to reduce carbon emissions are influenced by patterns of behavior and investment at sub-national levels. But as a result of inadequate capacities to engage these issues, local governments often see themselves as outliers in the process. One example of a city starting to take action with UNDP support is Dubai.

Dubai has emerged over the years as a global and regional hub of international finance, investment and growth. Meanwhile it stands out in the Arab region for having established a diversified economy beyond oil. Among the various new drivers of growth, an ambition has also arisen in recent years to emerge as a leader on sustainable energy and low carbon development. In support of this vision, UNDP has supported a new initiative entitled “Promotion of Low-Carbon Development in Dubai.” Cooperation has resulted in three key results in recent times:

  • Establishment of a new dubai carbon center of excellence as a hub of innovation and expertise to lead low-carbon economy solutions in dubai;
  • Successful sale into the global carbon market of new solar energy projects in dubai through private sector cooperation and registration under the un clean development mechanism;
  • Launch of the first-ever state of energy report for dubai as an annual process to monitor and evaluate key trends and opportunities through indicator systems, and to engage leaders at the highest levels in the drive for a clean energy economy.

The initial successes of these efforts by Dubai has been about more than a vision of low-carbon development and increased investment in clean technology; it has also been about public policies, strategies and regulatory frameworks related to local economic development. Through leadership at both national and sub-national levels, the United Arab Emirates seeks to generate new green growth opportunities as a base for global competitiveness and as one part in its drive to generate the high-tech knowledge economy of the future.

In 2012, Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced the launch of a long-term national initiative to build a green economy in the UAE under the slogan ‘A Green Economy for Sustainable Development’. Closely connected to this, the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy supports the vision for the city to emerge as a best practice and role model in the drive for low-carbon approaches through new 2030 targets for scaling up solar energy use as well as rapid expansion in the use of energy efficiency in buildings and other key sectors of urban growth.

The alignment of green economy and sustainable energy among local, national and global levels; the coordination of local and global partnerships and investments; and the creation of new local institutions for ‘climate governance’ and low-carbon development, are some of the lessons which could well place Dubai on the path to becoming a future green leader among world cities.

Opportunities could also arise to connect these trends in the future with the expanding role of Dubai and the UAE as a global partner in development. Through the process of south-south cooperation this could also serve as a base of knowledge and innovation for other cities in the Arab region and beyond seeking to pursue low-carbon models of growth.

As one example of local innovation, in 22 October 2013, the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy (DSCE) in cooperation with UNDP unveiled the first-ever edition of its new State of the Energy Report for Dubai. With sustainable energy emerging at the top of the global development agenda, and 2014 set to launch the International Decade of Sustainable Energy, a key challenge will be to move from global dialogue to local action.

The inaugural State of Energy Report for Dubai stands as an example of this effort, one of the world’s first subnational reports to capture trends and opportunities in the drive for a sustainable energy future. Developed in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme and the Dubai Carbon Centre for Excellence, the State of the Energy Report highlights the drive by Dubai to emerge as a centre of innovation, investment and technology in the Arab region.

The State of Energy Report is a flagship initiative in support of the UAE National Green Economy for Sustainable Development Strategy launched in 2012, and serves as a platform of partnerships to spur new green economy opportunities. As highlighted in the report, the UAE has set a target of achieving 5% of its energy mix from renewable energy by 2030 while also seeking to reduce energy intensity by 30%. Like a number of countries in the Arab region, it seeks to place sustainable energy solutions at the centre of a new sustainable development pathway. As shown in the results of a Greenhouse Gas Inventory captured in the report, Dubai makes up 25% of the UAEs total GHG emissions. Overall the top sources of UAE’s emission are electricity and water (35%), transport (26%), industry (21%), among other sources.

To assess trends towards sustainable energy goals, the report brings together 50 leading thinkers on sustainable energy solutions to highlight specific trends and challenges in areas such as models for energy governance and lowcarbon strategies, new financing models, catalysts and incentives for solar energy expansion, reducing energy intensity through end-use energy efficiency measures, and clean technology applications for green buildings and sustainable transport. Contributors include leading figures from the UAE and Dubai Government, UNDP, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Middle East Solar Industry Association, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Masdar Institute, to name a few.

The emergence of local leadership for sustainable energy will be key to achieving global goals. A need exists to bring forth best practices and lessons learned as local partners like Dubai pursue sustainable energy. Cooperation with emerging economies like the UAE can support progress to reduce energy intensity locally, while new global partnerships can be forged as well to bring these new levels of innovation and investment to bear on sustainable energy goals in developing countries around the world.

UNDP is the UNs largest provider of technical assistance to countries in the area of energy and environment, currently working with countries across the Arab region, from Palestine and Iraq, to Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan, to expand the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency as a source of social, economic and environmental triplewins in development.

In supporting nationally owned initiatives across the region, UNDP mobilizes financial resources and technical expertise from a range of strategic partners and donors. In the energy and environment domain, UNDP has mobilized over $4 billion of global support over the past twenty years to help partner countries implement goals of climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services, combating land degradation and desertification, and water resource management.

An increasing focus for UNDP partnerships is on South-South Cooperation, leveraging UNDPs presence in 177 countries and territories to build bridges within and between regions to share best practices and lessons learned in achieving goals of energy and environment. Opportunities exist to engage models for local innovations such as those in UAE to support sustainability efforts in developing countries around the world.

Kishan Khoday is currently UNDP Regional Practice Leader for Energy & Environment in the Arab region, and has been with UNDP for 15 years previously in China, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. The views and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the United Nations, UNDP or its Member States.

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