Three years ago, the UAE was named and shamed as having the largest per-capita carbon footprint in the world; ironically, the announcement came 10 years to the day since the UAE’s first ‘Environment Day’. In response to this sobering fact, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced the introduction of the Zayed Future Energy Prize in 2008, with a view to tackling today’s energy crisis through research into more renewable sources of power. The first prizes, totalling US$2.2 million (Dhs8 million), were distributed in 2009.
In preparation for next year’s prize-giving in January 2012, the organisers are upping the ante: prize money up for grabs this time will be nearly double, coming in at a lofty US$4 million (Dhs14.7 million). Money may well make the world go round, but how does a glamorous multi-million dollar prize help realise the green dream?
Abu Dhabi has a list of institutions responsible for preserving the natural environment of the UAE, and the Zayed Future Energy Prize complements this. His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan established many of these governmental departments himself, and his concern for protecting the biodiversity of the emirates, as well as his proactive approach to putting important environmental programmes into motion, earned him the ‘Golden Panda’ award from the WWF. Not only is this their highest form of recognition for conservation work, but it was also the first time the award had ever been bestowed on a head of state. The founding father recognised the urgent need for environmental protection, but also understood the importance of long-term vision when looking at sustainability for the future, and this is what the jury makes sure to keep at the forefront of the selection process.
‘As in the Founder’s mind, this is not a prize for lifetime achievement. It’s a prize about something for the future,’ says Lord John Browne, former CEO of BP and one of last year’s judges. ‘We are honouring people who have been leaders, who have taken risks and who have delivered something and, indeed, will deliver more. The prize winners will be great ambassadors to the cause; the cause being sustainability and, therefore, lower carbon emissions.’
Dr Susan Hockfield, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is once again taking up her place on the jury this year, and explains why the prize is so important, ‘The Zayed Future Energy Prize raises the visibility of the challenge [of developing sustainable resources] and the visibility of solutions to the challenge. It reflects a very long-term commitment to sustainability by Sheikh Zayed himself, as well as by Abu Dhabi.’
The prize obviously plays an important role in fulfilling this vision, although the effects are also being felt around the world. Previous winners have included Danish wind turbine company Vestas, businessman Dipal Barua, rewarded for the work he does to develop solar energy in Bangladesh, and car firm Toyota, recognised for its advancements in making hybrid technology more accessible. Regardless of the prize fund, each one of the hundreds of candidates has made priceless contributions to the development of sustainable resources and the jury has a tough task of choosing the winning entry, even from the shortlist.
This year, organisers say they have expanded the opportunities for global participation. However, with no Emirati having won the prize, it may be opportunities for home-grown participation that will expand in future. The green dream seems to be right on track, but how long it will be before the memorial prize is ‘brought home’ to the UAE is yet to be determined.