Here I am in Chennai, visiting my 89 year old mother. A gutsy woman who learned to drive a car when she was 60 years old, ran a school, started an incense stick production facility, ran a free medical dispensary, nurtured us 4 siblings, all with meagre means in a frugal middle class household. Scarce resources on hand did not stop this diminutive juggernaut, because she had a conscious intent and a strong will.
In my role as a climate leader and an advocate of applied sustainability, I am constantly looking for conscious intent, and strong will from corporations and countries. Hero countries like Chile keeps our faith alive. From 11 MW in 2013, to over 400 MW in 2014 to over 800 MW in 2015, Chile has over 13 GW of solar projects under progress as of 2016. The country has a number of characteristics that are driving this rapid growth, including a need for new electricity supply, high marginal power prices, a lot of sunlight, and most importantly, a mandatory target for renewable energy generation, driven by a strong political will.
The GDP per capita in Chile averaged US$ 7,473.33 from 1960 until 2016, reaching an all time high of US$ 15,019.60 in 2016. I want to now contrast this to the GDP of a country like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - why the UAE - only because I lived there for many years, recently visited it and believe that they everything to do more than what Chile has done.
The GDP per capita in the UAE averaged US$ 65,635.76 from 1975 until 2016, reaching an all time high of US$ 11,3682 in 1980. The UAE has committed to increasing the share of renewable and nuclear energy in the total energy mix to 24% by 2021. Based on this target, Climate Tracker.org rates UAE's nationally determined contribution (NDC) as "Insufficient". This means that the UAE's climate commitment in 2021 is not consistent with holding warming to below 2°C, let alone limiting it to 1.5°C as required under the Paris Agreement, and is instead consistent with warming between 2°C and 3°C. This from a country that has 7% of global proved oil reserves, and is the 6th top carbon dioxide emitter per capita in the world.
While it is tempting to tell countries like the UAE, that they need to do more, the intent of this article is more than that. It is to tell the UAE that it has all the ingredients to take a leader ship stance for the region, not because the world demands it, but because their own heritage, as desert dwellers who understand scarcity of precious resources like water, demands it. UAE needs to focus on other aspects of sustainability like water, which I described last week and waste. Officially the world's highest per capita waste generator is the USA with 2.0 KG's per capita. The per capita waste of the UAE is between 1.5 to 2.3 KG's!!
In most countries, a strong civic society often helps their governments come up with ideas on issues relating to environmental protection and sustainability. The UAE should facilitate this, as it will demand from its citizens a value based sense of purpose, and will give its residents a sense of ownership beyond, discussions of permanent residency. Most of the drawing room chatter will shift from real estate developments, malls and other visible markers of prosperity, to contributions towards the country to become more sustainable.
Simple first steps like stopping super markets from generously handing out plastic bags, with a law that mandates all shoppers to bring their own shopping bags. Installing kitchen water treatment plants for consumption and reducing plastic branded water bottles that are flown in from the around the world. Dual plumbing supplying treated black water in households and offices to ensure that expensive desalinated water is not used for flushing.
The UAE has the resources at their disposal, small populations to deal with, and a government structure that can implement change quickly. While it is known from the biggest buildings and largest shopping malls, it has the political leadership that has the foresight to embrace sustainability, and be seen as a leader that contributes to saving this planet. The planet needs more hero countries like Chile. UAE, are you next?
The writer is an author, speaker, trainer, consultant, an entrepreneur and an expert in applied sustainability.