T he Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) initiative was one of a plethora of ‘green’ projects, companies and funds launched in the past decade, albeit one of the most ambitious.

A soaring global economy, combined with rising concerns about climate change, seemed to offer limitless opportunities for firms dealing with renewable energy, green buildings and carbon capture.

But progress at Masdar and elsewhere has rarely matched the initial optimism. The failure to agree a deal at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December last year highlighted the lack of consensus about the best way of combating climate change.

Abu Dhabi, at least, still wants to be seen as a regional leader in sustainable development. At the World Future Energy Summit held in the UAE capital in mid January, Masdar said work on a 100MW solar and a 400MW hydrogen power plant would start this year.

But it still has a long way to go. The UAE is one of the world’s biggest producers of oil and gas and, thanks to a reliance on cars and air conditioning and a widespread disdain for environmentally sustainable development, is probably the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide per capita.

The government has still not brought in a solid regulatory framework for the kind of green energy schemes it often advocates, although subsidies for solar power plants are expected to be announced soon.

In Europe, subsidies and tax breaks have been used to encourage the use of alternative energy, often with great success. The UAE should follow that approach and expand its use of subsidies.

Abu Dhabihas certainly done more than most governments in the region, but what is needed now is a clear policy direction, combined with regulation and incentives. With that, the UAE could yet become a regional leader in the fight against climate change.