‘Tis the season of events and conferences…and exciting announcements.
While this usually spreads over a few months (coinciding with better weather in the UAE), the last month has been particularly interesting for sustainability professionals. Two of the high profile events I’ve had the privilege of attending are the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW 2017), including the World Future Energy Summit and the International Water Summit, and the C40 Dubai Adaptation Conference.
Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2017
While I’ve attended the ADSW exhibitions before, this was my first year attending as a speaker. The awards ceremony for the Zayed Future Energy Prize was very well organized and it was heart-warming to see high school students from all over the world competing and attending the ceremony.
The exhibition showcased the latest sustainability-related policies and projects in the region, including the UAE Energy Strategy , Abu Dhabi ground water law, Saudi Vision 2030, and Dubai Expo 2020.
The World Future Energy Summit was well-attended with multiple country-focus sessions including KSA and India. The strong push towards renewable energy (solar and wind) in KSA from both the private and public sectors was evident.
I spoke on the second day of the International Water Summit, as part of a panel on the topic of planning liveable cities from a water perspective. Panelists shared their experience of best practice from around the world, including Vienna and Rotterdam. The next panel discussed the topic of storm water management and it was great to hear panelists emphasising the need to plan for exceedance events (i.e. not limit planning to minimum statutory requirements).
C40 Climate Change Adaptation Conference
Less than a week later, Dubai hosted the C40 Climate Change Adaptation Conference. It is the first C40 network event hosted in Dubai and, in true Dubai style, the event hosted not one but three networks related to adaptation.
The first plenary session included a panel with His Excellency Abdulla Al Shaibani, Secretary-General of the Executive Council of Dubai, His Excellency Dr. Thani Al-Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, and Mayor Aqel Beltaji mayor of Amman, Jordan (another C40 city in the region) – all discussing ongoing and future initiatives related to climate change. During his welcoming speech earlier in the morning, Al Shaibani announced the development of a Dubai Climate Adaptation Plan. This would be a first for the region and follows on from the recent announcement of a UAE-wide Council for Climate Change and Environment.
There is a lot of ground to be covered as the region has done very little to date on adaptation. However, the cooperation at a city and national level, at least in the UAE, to tackle this challenge is a promising start.
Emirates Green Building Student Forum
I cannot end without mentioning the well-organised Student Forum event by the Emirates Green Building Council and Heriot-Watt university earlier this week. It was a pleasure and privilege to be invited as a panelist, along with a number of sustainability professionals from the industry. I always learn a lot from people’s career journeys and this was no exception. Interestingly, I wasn’t the only one with a ‘non-traditional’ path, as many had work experience prior to completing their degrees or had multiple degrees some of which were unrelated to the built environment. What was common was the effort these industry leaders put in to continuously developing their knowledge and skills and progressing their careers to the next level.
The students were interested to find out what companies look for when hiring graduates. There were also questions around the best time for undertaking a graduate degree (pre or post work experience) and the support provided by companies towards this. Overall, I was impressed by the enthusiasm and industry awareness level of the students. One architectural engineering student was interested in undertaking a graduate degree to help her ‘sell’ sustainable design in the face of arguments that it is not the right economic answer. Get a job was my advice…nothing like real-life experience to win such discussions.
I was particularly impressed by a group of female UAE University students who came all the way from Al Ain to find out more about the industry and what opportunities await them. One of them was interested in a government job, not because of the shorter working hours or higher starting salaries, but because of the influence the role would provide on shaping a more sustainable world. Another had very valid critiques of development projects in the region being branded as sustainable, such as insufficient focus on walkability. All five of the students were interested in pursuing careers in urban planning but were not sure if there were any relevant opportunities in the market. They left feeling that their trip was worthwhile and that sustainable urban planning was a real career choice, not a fantasy. It is moments like these that make my day.