Energy is only part of the picture

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[mk_dropcaps style=”simple-style”]A[/mk_dropcaps]mong the countries making headlines as champions of renewable energy, the United Arab Emirates is perhaps one of the more surprising. Flush with oil wealth, it would strike many as having little cause to dabble in solar and wind farms. Yet the UAE has become a hotbed of renewables and an exporter of expertise, investing and aiding in the construction of major clean-energy projects as far afield as the U.K., Mauritania, Afghanistan, Jordan and the remote Pacific island nation of Tonga.

The UAE’s embrace of alternative energy, a program made possible by its oil wealth, is powerfully symbolic. But for all the attention it has won, renewable energy is not the main story in and of itself. There’s a larger national vision at play in the UAE, one that speaks to the country’s aspirations for what it hopes to become. This vision and the UAE’s approach to its realization demonstrate that energy resources — including renewables — and their revenues, when strategically mobilized, can be a catalyst toward achieving a broad array of societal goals.

Make no mistake; oil and gas
 production will continue to be key
 elements of the UAE’s economy for decades to come – 
but the country is making economic choices based on a deliberate and much broader vision for the future. Revenue from the industry currently accounts for about 40 per cent of the federation’s gross domestic product as well as half of its government revenue. Beyond raw accounting, though, is how that wealth is being used. Today, it is enabling a national agenda known as “Vision 2021,” an extensive program that articulates the UAE’s goals, including the development of world-class education and healthcare systems, strong cultural identity and a competitive economy based on innovation, knowledge and sustainability.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][mk_image src=”http://www.energy-exchange.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/1515_FP357717.jpg” image_width=”800″ image_height=”350″ crop=”false” lightbox=”true” frame_style=”simple” target=”_self” caption_location=”outside-image” align=”left” margin_bottom=”10″ title=”An artist’s concept of Masdar City, a low-carbon community that’s part of the U.A.E.’s Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co., which accounts for more than half the renewable energy capacity in the region.” desc=”FOSTER + PARTNERS”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]In some areas, the UAE’s Vision 2021 agenda is closely tied to specific energy ambitions. Its Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, for example, is an independent, research-driven university focused on graduate programs in advanced energy and sustainable technology. Its work includes specialized research centres with focuses on areas such as energy, innovation and entrepreneurship, smart systems and water and environment.[/vc_column_text][mk_padding_divider size=”40″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][mk_image src=”http://www.energy-exchange.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Emirates3-1.jpg” image_width=”800″ image_height=”350″ crop=”false” lightbox=”true” frame_style=”simple” target=”_self” caption_location=”outside-image” align=”left” margin_bottom=”10″ desc=”THOMAS HERBRETEAU / CANADIAN GEOGRAPHIC”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]In other areas, Vision 2021 focuses exclusively on social well-being. In health care, for example, it seeks to increase the number of physicians per capita by 50 per cent, reduce the incidence of lifestyle-related health issues such as diabetes and obesity, and increase overall life expectancy. Other priorities include achieving leading positions in world rankings for the quality of infrastructure and fostering a culture of business innovation, a goal that includes new incentives, research partnerships, the development of incubators and new investment in skills.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]Despite some setbacks with the pace of development, progress on Vision 2021 is evident. On the renewable energy front, the government’s Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co. (usually referred to as Masdar) boasts a portfolio that accounts for more than half the renewable energy capacity in the Persian Gulf region. On investment, the country has been climbing in the overall rankings of the World Bank Group’s “Doing Business” report, reaching number 22 in 2015. Likewise, it has made significant gains in the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Competitiveness report. International benchmarks rate the performance of the education system as the best among Middle Eastern countries.

For the UAE, energy revenue is a tool to be harnessed toward achieving clearly articulated societal goals rather than serving as an end in itself. The UAE’s approach is a useful case study for Canada as we navigate the complex inter-relationship between responsible stewardship of natural resources and national vision.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][mk_padding_divider][mk_button dimension=”three” size=”large” outline_skin=”dark” outline_active_color=”#fff” outline_hover_color=”#333333″ bg_color=”#13bdd2″ text_color=”light” url=”/resources/energy-exchange-magazine/issue-4/” target=”_self” align=”left” fullwidth=”false” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”15″]Read more stories from the Summer 2015 issue of Energy Exchange magazine[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]