Preparing for tomorrow

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

Khaleej Times, December 22, 2012

The climate Change conference in Qatar just ended recently. This conference had attendees from nearly 200 nations all clamoring with lobbyists and other concerned citizens “to do something about climate change”.

Laudable wishes, but I fear little has been achieved but for signing-off weak aims “to reduce our polluting emissions.”

I accept that reducing pollution is laudable, but contend our primary aim is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. This is simply because they are a finite resource, and once burned can never be replaced. Moreover, most of their potential energy is squandered in several ways. Thus, instead of these unwieldy meetings, we ought to concentrate on the development of renewable energy and the better distribution of the electricity derived from these sources. That will be of far greater benefit to the people of the globe.

Many of the Gulf leaders have commissioned huge buildings, which are carbon neutral and some return energy to the grid from time to time. That is actually quite impressive for oil-rich nations. But that it is not sufficient – what is needed is a much stronger clustering of hi-tech enterprises in all the Gulf capitals employing highly qualified immigrants and local people intent harvesting renewable energy and on feeding its electricity into the grid. The EU, Mediterranean, and North African States (EUMENA) is a group inviting the Gulf States to join them in a forward-looking, ambitious, solar power capture and electricity distribution system.

Qatar on Tuesday joined the International Renewable Energy Agency´s (IRENA) Global Atlas project for solar and wind energy on the side-lines of the climate change conference. Other announcements about new initiatives for solar energy may be imminent, but we need all oil-rich sovereign wealth funds to consider allocating more cash to these ventures as soon as possible. I agree that massive spending on football stadia or on team players maintain a brand image in front of people´s eyes, but soon we will have less travel, and a great need to harvest alternative fuel sources: the Arab States can play a great part in the new exploration of science and engineering.

Oddly enough labour migration may be a source of inspiration, especially to the Gulf states. Migration worries local people, everywhere-they fear for their jobs – but research shows this is not the case. Migrants have varying qualifications from excellent down to those pariahs who look for social benefits or hospitalisation in a new country. As migrants enter the job chains local people are displaced but they are freed to gain better local jobs. All in all, it is a win-win situation, and one that richly develops the receptive nation as well as donor nations since the latter receive more remittances.

The Gulf states, by and large, have a low indigenous population. The crowds we see are mainly from abroad – migrant workers on short contracts in the construction sector, consultants across all sectors, and visitors looking for a happy holiday. It is important that the local population are as well educated as possible. But, like everywhere, each person lies on an intelligence curve ranging from dull to brilliant: there is nothing we can do about that but nurture all to the best of our ability. To fill the gaps, migrants are needed. Clear policies are needed: first on better education of all local people from the very young upwards, with new curricula fitted to the modern world; second, on energy policy to preserve present resources and to develop new renewable sources and distribution; and third, to devise open migration policies. If the Gulf States can succeed quickly on these initiatives, they will provide a blueprint for the rest of the world. If they delay and squander their only resources – their oil and gas – suddenly the flows will cease. What then, we may ask?

Frank-Jürgen Richter is founder and chairman of Horasis, a global visions community