Nawal Al-Hosany, a leading figure in the environmental movement of the Middle East speaks to GreenProphet about renewables, Masdar, education and the absence of women in the climate change debate – both locally and globally
In 2010, after eight days of hiking in freezing temperatures Nawal Al-Hosany reached the Uhuru Peak of Kilimanjaro Mountain. She explains that she underwent the challenging climb to highlight the impact of climate change which is melting the mountain’s snow and to encourage greater action in the Middle East. Al-Hosany who joined Masdar in 2008 as the sustainability associate director is now its director of sustainability. She also director of the influential Zayed Future Energy Prize. I caught up with her to talk about Masdar and how you incentivise renewables in a rich, oil-producing country.
GreenProphet: A recent report titled “Prospects for Energy Technology Advancements in the Energy Sector,” written by yourself and IRENA highlights the opportunities available to MENA if they embrace renewables. Why is now such a good time to adopt renewable technologies?
Nawal Al-Hosany: The MENA region, and especially the Gulf States, has an opportunity to leverage its expertise in energy and move into new sectors, including wind and solar power. The future energy mix will include renewables, and we should embrace this transition. In addition, the region also has an abundant solar resource – an energy we should tap into to address energy security and our rising demands. Although the region’s renewable resources have been underexploited, technology advances and increased deployment are now making certain forms of clean energy economically viable across the region.
You recently hosted an event exploring the role that Arab women should play in securing a sustainable future for the region. Do you think that women are taking enough of a leading role in the region when it comes to climate change and energy?
When it comes to the region, women have an active voice in the climate change discussion. However, we can all do more, regionally and globally. The fact is climate change affects women differently, especially underprivileged, uneducated and un-empowered women. Women form the majority of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty in the world. And it’s people in poverty that shoulder the brunt and burden of climate change. The rural poor – especially women – depend on the environment to provide basic needs, such as food, shelter and fuel. The harsh impacts of climate change on these women are interlinked to social and cultural conditions.
Women have a social, economic and moral responsibility to be equal participants in the fight against climate change. And one way we can immediately help is to encourage women to pursue careers in math and science, where we can advance the renewable, clean-tech and sustainability sectors. Here in Abu Dhabi we have the Masdar Institute, which is an independent, research-driven graduate institute developed with the ongoing support and cooperation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The Masdar Institute is focused on the science and engineering of advanced alternative energy, environmental technologies and sustainability.
At the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, 35% of our student body are women. The Institute’s Young Future Energy leaders programme that mentors and trains future leaders in the fields of advanced energy and sustainability has 45% women. It’s these types of outlets in higher education that provide women with a vehicle to get involved and to be part of the climate change solution.
What other things could be done to secure a more rounded contribution from women?
There are a few ways in which we can encourage women’s participation in the climate change debate. One of them is education opportunities especially in the STEM fields. We can actively push for better access to educational grants and scholarships, so that women can pursue advanced careers. Mentoring programmes can also provide young women with role models for their education and career paths.
We also need knowledge-sharing and action-oriented platforms that encourage open dialogue and that unite women fighting for climate change across the globe. We need to work together to identify the relevant areas where women have a role and can deliver an immediate impact. This is both in terms of responding to climate change in a gender-sensitive way, but also empowering women as key actors in the solutions to mitigating and adapting to climate change. Lastly, empowerment via fair opportunity policies at all levels of the government and the private sector can play a key role in promoting more women in decision-making and leadership roles.
Who are some of the women working in the environmental sector that inspire you?
The lack of women working in the environmental sector, and the opportunity to do more, is what ultimately inspires and motivates me. We only have a handful of women across the globe that are participating in the discussion on renewable energy, sustainability and addressing climate change. These are global issues that impact us all, irrespective of the roles we play or that have defined by society.
As the director of sustainability at Masdar, what have been the biggest challenges that you have faced?
There is a need to raise awareness on adopting and incorporating a sustainable approach in the region and beyond – how sustainability can be incorporated in an organization, the benefits of a sustainable approach to operating a business etc. One way we hope to shed light on the subject is during the upcoming Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW), taking place from January 13-17 in Abu Dhabi. ADSW will be the largest gathering on sustainability in the history of the Middle East and will bring together companies, policymakers and thinkers from more than 150 countries to discuss the challenges and solutions related to energy, water, climate and other sustainability issues.
Although the UAE is making progress in terms of renewables there is still a long way to go. Is the country heading in the right direction and what is being done to incentivise renewables in such a rich, oil-producing country?
The UAE believes in the adoption of a comprehensive, balanced energy mix that includes different sources of energy, including renewables, traditional hydrocarbons and nuclear. Diversifying the energy mix is critical to meeting future electricity demands, lowering our environmental footprint and our energy security. Investments in renewable energy are also a natural extension of our leadership and long history as energy exporters. The UAE is in a unique position to leverage its resource to advance the economic, social and environmental benefits of clean energy.
For the UAE, a commitment in advancing renewables and clean technology is an investment in our long-term future, reinforcing our economy with knowledge capital. This is a strategic sector that is playing a role in the diversification of our local economy, moving form a resource-based economy to one based on human capital and knowledge.
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