World leader in renewable energy reflects on times as Pacific student

United Arab Emirates Minister of Climate Change and Environment Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi speaks with current students about what it was like being a Arab and Muslim student at Pacific at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

World leader in renewable energy reflects on times as Pacific student

As an 18-year-old mechanical engineering student in 2001, Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi was greeted with tolerance, understanding and assurance that he and other Arab and Muslim students at Pacific would be safe in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"I was deeply moved by the leadership of University of the Pacific," said Al Zeyoudi, the minister of climate change and environment for the United Arab Emirates since February 2016. "In that time of great turmoil and uncertainty, the university's faculty convened the campus to a meeting. They said that all students at this university had a right to feel safe and to feel they belonged. They said that the actions of some cannot be blamed on the many. ... It is something I will always remember and something which is important even in our day-to-day lives."

Al Zeyoudi was in California attending last week's Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco and visited Pacific on Sept. 11 to recall what it was like being a student here at the time of the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

"Like many people of Arab and Muslim background, I also felt fear, not only because of the horror which these terrorists were affecting, but also because I was afraid that my background and my skin would make me a target," said Al Zeyoudi, who also spoke to students about his country's climate and renewable energy vision.

Being at Pacific was his first time abroad and he didn't know what to expect but knew the challenge would make him a stronger, better and more resilient person.

"I think it was important to share this message with students and to remind them that the efforts they make now and the lessons they learn will stay with them for a lifetime. ... This visit to the university was important for me, because it's my firm belief that youth are a crucial part of meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. It was important for me to take time from my trip, to convey this message," Al Zeyoudi said.

Al Zeyoudi's message aligns with Pacific's core values, including diversity, inclusion and sustainability. Pacific, curator of the John Muir Papers and home to the John Muir Center, supports a number of sustainability programs on its campuses in Sacramento, San Francisco and Stockton. and a number of programs that promote diversity and inclusion at Pacific.

Al Zeyoudi was appointed UAE's minister of climate change and environment in February 2016. Before that, he was the UAE's permanent representative to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) (2010-17) and director of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2010-16). It was at DECC that he directed UAE's climate policies toward the successful negotiation of the Paris Climate Agreement.

He began his career as a reservoir engineer at the Abu Dhabi Marine Oil Co. and then moved to Masdar, where we worked on advancing renewable energy technologies and solutions. He played a major role in the UAE's successful campaign in 2009 in host IRENA, the first international organization dedicated to renewable energy.

In 2015, Al Zeyoudi was awarded the first Gulf Cooperation Council Prize for Excellence in recognition of his pioneering efforts in renewable energy.

Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi speaks with students

Thani Al Zeyoudi speaks with students