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Achieving Sustainable Development That Leaves No One Behind

13/08/2015 10:05 BST | Updated 12/08/2016 10:59 BST

Zayed Future Energy Prize helps advance UN sustainability goals

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The final quarter of 2015 will be a remarkable and significant period for the global dialogue on renewable energy, sustainability, and climate change. In December, world leaders will meet in France to seek a legally-binding global agreement on climate-related environmental targets. The United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP21 as it is better known, has the potential to map out a collective path to sustainable development for the next 50 to 100 years.

But we should not forget what could be another pivotal moment for the history of our planet's response to alleviating poverty, promoting development and combatting climate change, the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Last August, 193 United Nation's member states agreed on a 30-page sustainable development agenda - a roadmap to achieving 17 SDGs.

In September, the United Nations General Assembly will convene to adopt the post-2015 SDGs. These objectives will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were hugely successful in tackling some of the acute issues surrounding poverty across the globe. It was a vision to fight poverty at its root, and it succeeded on many levels.

In the last 15 years, the world has changed dramatically and so has our understanding of what impacts the poorest people across the globe. For many, the MDGs were too narrow, and the proposed SDGs reflect a far more accurate and nuanced understanding of the challenges we face.

As the name suggests, the SDGs enshrine "sustainability" as the guiding principle for global development for the next decade and a half. In the current draft, there are 17 goals, all focused upon the core issue of sustainability. Within these goals are 169 explicit targets that will be used to determine progress against the objectives.

Meeting these targets will require cooperation on an unprecedented scale. Governments, the private sector, international organisations and non-governmental organisations will need to work together to create change.

Equally important, the world will need to come together to recognise, reward and inspire innovation in sustainability. In this regard, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is already ahead of the curve.

The Zayed Future Energy Prize was established in 2008 to honour the late founding father and president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and continue his powerful legacy of environmental, social, and economic sustainability.

For seven years, the Prize has been recognising achievements and commitments that directly advance four of the post-2015 SDGs - namely to:

  • Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

To date, winners of the Zayed Future Energy Prize have enhanced the lives of more than 150 million people and assisted more than 5,000 women from developing nations to enter the workplace with 'green' jobs. The winners have connected over 57 million people to energy through solar power, enabled energy access for more than 2.5 million people in rural Africa, provided over 6 million people with affordable safe drinking water daily, generated more than 200,000 MWh from renewable energy sources and prevented at least 800 million tonnes CO₂ from entering the atmosphere.

The Zayed Future Energy Prize is also inspiring the next generation of pioneers in solving problems at the community level. At the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) forum in May 2015, a young man from Malawi named Dikirani Thaulo lit a candle to represent the light by which he had studied under for many years.

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With the funding from winning the Zayed Future Energy Prize, the Nkhata Bay School Authority, in one of Malawi's poorest regions, was able to establish a solar academy and an ecology centre. Dikirani received training to become a solar engineer and he is now able to bring sustainable energy to many thousands of people that for far too long relied upon candlelight to survive.

The implementation of the SDGs is a call to arms for all nations - not just for the developing world. It represents a significant step forward in enshrining our need to put sustainable development at the heart of future policy endeavours. The UAE's establishment of the Zayed Future Energy Prize reflects an early understanding of the type of commitment required by governments to make communities more sustainable.

As the UAE Government joins global policymakers at the UNGA and COP21, the Zayed Future Energy Prize will continue to identify and reward the businesses, organisations, schools and individuals that may define the success of global commitments on the future of sustainability.