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Masdar, IRENA… why can’t going green go right?

Masdar, IRENA… why can’t going green go right?

The chief of IRENA handed in her resignation and Masdar got scaled down and postponed; Kipp wonders if the UAE’s green efforts are all they’re cracked up to be.

October 26, 2010 12:48 by

“Going green” maybe everyone’s favorite catchphrase these days, but recent developments (or should we say green glitches?) in the capital suggest that when it comes to getting tough with global energy consumption, the dog’s bark might just be louder than his bite. Kipp takes a closer look at the UAE’s latest green troubles.

Earlier this week, IRENA chief Helene Pelosse quit her position as the agency’s first interim director. The departure of Pelosse – who was IRENA’s interim director general for almost 15 months – came as a surprise for most because as recently as July she appeared to be considering her stint at IRENA to be one of a longer tenure. The National reports that on July 29 Pelosse is known to have said, “IRENA is like a baby – it’s an organization that didn’t exist so you had to build it up, you had to set it up, it’s a long-term process (…) We will take years to get there.”

Speaking to AFP just yesterday, Pelosse claims she left the agency because of “intimidation” tactics used by the UAE government against her to force her out of her job. Pelosse told AFP: “Since I’ve been here, I’ve done several things which have led each time to the (UAE) foreign minister calling Paris to say, ‘This does not please us at all.’” Pelosse claims her offences include publicly accusing the UAE of delaying its payments and wearing a t-shirt at a climate conference in Amsterdam which read “IRENA recruits 50 percent women”.

IRENA was established in 2009 and Abu Dhabi beat out three European countries, including Vienna and Germany, in a bid to host the headquarters of the organization. When it began, the agency had big plans to speed up the process of going green and reducing climate change. But bureaucracy and financial restrictions appear to have curbed the fast pace of initial plans. With the funding for the project being based primarily on voluntary contributions, IRENA has reported severe financial restraints in the past year. According to IRENA’s website, Japan still owes the agency $2.1 million, and the US owes an estimate of more than $3 million. Though it must be noted that the US has not ratified the IRENA treaty; in fact only two members of the G8 have ratified the treaty as of yet, and only 42 out of 148 overall.

News of trouble with IRENA comes shortly after reports that Masdar City, the ambitious carbon-free, environmentally friendly city will not be completed until 2020, four years after it was supposed to be completed. And Abu Dhabi’s pet project might even stretch until 2025. To rub salt in, the project has also been scaled down, as Emirates 24/7 reports.

There are two different views Kipp could take on all this. First, that the glass is half full: the UAE is making very noble attempts to save mother earth. But as complications arise around, you wonder whether the country should cut the smoke and mirrors around the big green talk until it has something tangible to boast of. The alternative view, of course, is that it’s all just talk; a big green-washing scam to make a country built on petro-dollars appear environmentally concerned.

We always try to be optimists, but it gets harder all the time…

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  1. Miss Anne Thropic on October 27, 2010 9:35 am

    So many reasons…

    1. Petrol still too cheap, no impetus to buy less greedy, less polluting cars.

    2. A few hybrids on sale here but only at the high end of the market and there’s no pose value in driving one like there is in Hollywood.

    3. No infrastructure for alternative, greener fuels for cars.

    4. Recycling is difficult and impractical here and even if you do drop your bottles off at a petrol station, who knows where they will end up?

    5. Emiratis pay much less for electricity and get free water so there’s no real motivation for saving water or power.

    6. Municipalities and houses trying to grow ridiculously green gardens rather than planting desert-appropriate plants.

    7. Under-using solar power. There are issues with dust and sand making solar panels less effective but these can be overcome. The UAE is missing out on an opportunity to be a hub for solar power research.

    8. Drivers who leave their engines running while they go into shops – or while they park outside shops and honk for car service.

    9. Over-use of cars even for short trips.

    10. No encouragement for people to ride bikes, even in the pleasant weather.

    11. The mere presence of golf courses.

    12, An indoor ski slope.

    I could go on…

  2. Haitham on October 27, 2010 11:54 am

    Yes, all of the above comments are true; but if we look at the full half of the glass UAE is at least trying to go green unlike most middle eastern countries, USA, China, and many others (example the other 6 countries of the G8) (who didn’t sign the IRENA treatyand still claim to care!!)

    Its not UAE’s fault that they have OIL!!!!! people always criticize the gulf countries for having oil and gas (and thus harm the environment) and they all wish they have oil in their own countries and then they wouldn’t give a damn for the environment. In other words, can anyone be real by saying any country in the world would prefer the environment over petro-dollars!!!!
    As for mistakes here and there or downsizing/delaying Masdar City, so what??? its a new technology and its facing a lot of difficulties… Honda just withdraw half a million cars in the states for faulty brakes (a technology that has been introduced a century ago!!!)
    I’m not an emarati nor do i work in a government entity, i just believe that what they are trying to do is amazing especially because its a country full of oil and they really don’t have to spend all those billions on clean energy because they have oil energy to use for the next 100 years for free!!!

  3. Haitham on October 27, 2010 11:58 am

    on another note:
    Miss Anne Thropic…thank you for your above comments, but before criticizing the UAE, are you an environmentally friendly person??

    I bet ur not…

  4. Andrew on October 27, 2010 12:56 pm

    At least in terms of Masdar, there’s never been a coherent strategy since day 1. The idea was originally pitched as a concept without any plan behind it, that combined with a lack of genuine leadership has created an incoherent mess.

  5. Miss Anne Thropic on October 27, 2010 2:01 pm

    Haitham, just because the UAE has oil, it doesn’t mean it can get away with rubbish environmental policies. What an absurd statement.

    And if you must know,eco-sainthood hasn’t reached me yet, but I recycle when possible, I give away unwanted possessions to charity rather than throwing them away, I walk to work, Mr Thropic and I run one car between us and try to walk on short trips, we don’t waste water or electricity, we never leave the AC running unnecessarily, I never leave my car running unnecessarily, I work for a company with a paper recycling policy…

    But my point is that it is up to governments to set the example and then society follows. That is how it worked in my country and now it is seen as a massive faux pas not to recycle, most people take reusable bags to the supermarket, fuel-efficient cars are more popular etc etc.

  6. Andrew on October 27, 2010 2:33 pm

    I’m not wasteful – but no one gets between me and my gas guzzling, icecap melting, polar-bear drowning SUV.

  7. Miss Anne Thropic on October 27, 2010 3:59 pm

    And if we all drive our gas-guzzling SUVs, the oil will run out faster and that will (a) force car companies to come up with greener cars sooner and (b) force the UAE government to diversify its economy and the plan B of property and tourism simply ain’t enough…

  8. Haitham on October 28, 2010 9:37 am

    This is in today’s news:

    Abu Dhabi Distribution Company has proposed subsidies that would pay homeowners to install solar panels on their roofs with total output capacity of 500 megawatts, a third of the Government’s renewable energy target.

    ADDC will have installed digital electricity meters in all buildings by the end of this year(…) The new meters not only calculate power usage, but also allow consumers to sell their own solar-generated electricity back to the grid.

    Abu Dhabi Executive Council: a subsidy scheme for rooftop solar panels and the first increase in power prices in 15 years.

  9. Zorro on October 28, 2010 10:01 am

    The glass is a lot fuller than this article suggests. IRENA is now back on track after a period of mismanagement. 42 countries ratifying may sound slow, but by the standards of these processes that is actually pretty good going.

    As for Masdar, sure it is going slower than originally hoped (hardly rare for major construction projects) but it has already opened a major building complex housing the Masdar Institute, which is superb. Masdar is also building real, not aspirational, solar and wind power projects both in UAE and abroad.

    Abu Dhabi and Dubai are also adopting new efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, there is a new renewable energy target, and much more.

    There is a lot happening in the UAE right now. It deserves a deeper look than just musings over a press release or two.

  10. Miss Anne Thropic on October 28, 2010 8:15 pm

    “proposed subsidies” – I won’t believe it until they actually happen, much like proposed seat belt laws, proposed rail link between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, proposals to sort out the labour laws, proposals to improve road safety…

  11. Craig on December 14, 2010 1:21 pm

    It was a honourable vision that went asking “what if we pushed the boundaries and developed a showcase city that was carbon neutral” and the world eagerly awaited. Something of this magnitude and vision requires government input and financial support, but somewhere along the line the vision blurred and became profit motivated and the project took off in the wrong direction. Don’t get me wrong, profits should be made, but not the type of short term profits they are now looking at. The sort of prodfits which would have come would be from developing the new technologies and techniques that would be patented and then on-sold throughout the world to similar projects and government visions. This is where the money is, not real estate.

    Visit any large alternative energy event (outside of the one Masdar hosts in Abu Dhabi) and 2 years ago Masdar was the darling alternative energy world with big ambitions, new technologies and a huge vision. Ask these same people about Masdar now and you will get a less than a favorable opinion. The words lost, going nowhere and now plan are the new words now. It is a shame that so much passion, vision, potential and opportunity could get thrown away so quickly and a visionary project of worldwide interest become nothing more than another freezone real estate project.


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