The Middle East leads the Clean Energy Transition into a Necessary Acceleration

With COP26 concluded, nobody can deny the urgency for delivering on the promises made in Glasgow.

While it’s only been less than a month since the most important climate summit of our time took place, COP26 has already been heavily analysed. There’s been massive disappointment in many quarters, and quiet optimism and hope in others, but regardless of the differences in post-COP attitudes, everyone agrees that the next of measuring and accelerating progress on key climate targets is of the utmost importance. 

Key targets on clean energy transition decided at COP26

Global energy transition was a core focus of the summit, given its potential to make up at least 55% of the necessary carbon emission reductions necessary to keep global warming within the 1.5-degree rise parameters.

Perhaps the most crucial agreement element of the summit was the written acknowledgement of over 40 nations that “coal power generation is the single biggest cause of global temperature increases”. The signatory nations recognised the imperative to “urgently scale-up the deployment of clean power to make it the “most affordable and accessible option globally”. The concrete pledge of this agreement is to phase out unabated coal power use over the next two decades. In this context, unabated coal power refers to burning coal for power generation but without using any mitigating technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, such as Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS). 

Other key areas of focus include the rapid expansion of green financing, greater transparency in carbon markets (after contentious and unreliable results in many carbon offsetting activities globally), greater innovation in emerging areas such as green hydrogen and carbon capture technologies, and the sweeping reduction of methane gas generation.

In all these areas, the Middle East as a region is either highly proactive or even cultivating global leadership status. Particularly when it comes to harnessing solar energy, creating green hydrogen and cultivating green finance vehicles.

Key targets on clean energy transition decided at COP26

Already, the final months of 2021 have provided a number of important milestones for progress in the regional (and indeed global) struggle for a clean energy future.

This month, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) stepped up its own commitment to energy transition, in the form of a new venture with Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (TAQA). The ultimate aim of the partnership between these two regional giants is to create a whopping 30 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030. While their core focus will be on new renewable energy projects at home and abroad, waste-to-energy and green hydrogen will expand the portfolio of this highly ambitious new venture.

In fact, ADNOC believes that 2022 will be a turning point for the UAE and the wider region when it comes to realising its clean energy dreams. By January next year, ADNOC predicts that it will receive 100% of its grid power from clean energy sources. This is an incredible achievement for an oil and gas company – even one of ADNOC’s size and resources – in a time period marked by the challenges of a series of oil price crises and the global pandemic.

Still, this innovation and commitment to new energy approaches is in keeping with the UAE’s desire to lead the region in clean energy adoption. With its own plans involve going net-zero emissions by 2050, this represents a remarkable new direction for a nation whose wealth was founded on oil. With a planned $163 billion in investments to achieve this aim, the UAE is heavily focused on making this target a reality. Notable UAE renewable energy projects currently underway include the construction of The 5.6GW Barakah Plant, one of the biggest nuclear power plants in the world, and the 2GW Al Dhafra Solar Photovoltaic project, capable of reducing 2.4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

Bright spots in a year of political and environmental uncertainty

The near immediate acceleration of clean energy efforts in the UAE and wider ME region after COP26 is a phenomenon being replicated all over the world. There appears to be a near universal sentiment that the message “actions speak louder than words” has been heard and acted upon by global leaders in government, industry and innovation sectors. Turning COP26’s plans into reality is the next great struggle, one with little to no time to spare.

As well as the ground-breaking agreements made in Glasgow, the final months of 2021 are bringing several bright predictions for the immediate future conditions of key sustainability sectors. The costs attached to solar panels, LED bulbs and lithium-ion batteries have plunged by approximately 90% in the past decade, with further drops anticipated as they are fuelled by further breakthrough innovations. Similarly, it’s widely predicted that the next year or two may see the tipping point where electric cars become cheaper to buy than hydrocarbon-fuelled cars.

With such world-changing technologies at the point of mass-adoption, driven on by perhaps the strongest international political will and public insistence ever generated in history on the subject of protecting our planet’s future, there is a note of cautious optimism in the air as we enter December 2021.