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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) are putting US$15 billion into an alternative energy and clean technology initiative to establish itself as the regional and global centre of future energy solutions.

Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE, announced the initiative at the World Future Energy Summit held in Abu Dhabi, last week (21–23 January).

The initiative will include projects targeting solar and wind power and hydrogen fuel, and reduction and management of carbon emissions.

Amongst the projects is the establishment of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a graduate-level scientific engineering institution offering PhD-level teaching as well as conducting research.

A US$250 million Masdar Clean Technology Fund will be dedicated to financing renewable energy research projects conducted by private companies.

The fund will focus on the development and commercialisation of technologies in renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon management, water usage and desalination, with a particular emphasis on technologies applicable to the environmental conditions of the Middle East and North Africa.

The UAE are also establishing the Zayed Future Energy Prize to honour individuals and organisations from throughout the globe for excellence in innovation, development and implementation of sustainable energy solutions. The inaugural prize will be awarded in 2009, with US$2.2 million awarded to three winners each year.

All of the projects will be based Masdar city — the UAE's planned 'zero carbon and zero-waste' city, due to open in late 2009.

"After realising that they have one of the highest energy consumption rates per capita in the world, the UAE has finally started spearheading renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in the region," says Wael Hmaidan, executive director and head of the Arab Climate Campaign at IndyACT (The League of Independent Activists) based in Lebanon.

But he added, "What we mostly lack in the Arab world is strong climate change policy… Adopting a strong climate change position with clear targets for the global treaty is currently as important as investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, if not more. The UAE and other Arab states should urgently adopt climate change policies that complement the UAE's technical initiative."