The Emirates has all the tools for a green energy transition

But Cop28 will be a watershed moment not only for the UAE, but the entire region

Last month, the UAE opened Expo 2020 Dubai after a delay of nearly one year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The opening of the Expo, one of the largest and most significant global events, sent a powerful message to nations and corporations around the world.

It demonstrated country’s leadership in fighting the pandemic and controlling it to the point that it allowed an event of this magnitude and scale to be held in the first place. The message was loud and clear: now is the time for the world to reopen and resume activities, from tourism to transport to entertainment, events and business, all of which were put on pause due to the pandemic.

What followed next from the leadership was even more powerful and courageous. At the Terra, the Sustainability Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai – where experts gathered to discuss how to protect biodiversity and address climate change – Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, announced the country’s plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The UAE became the first nation in the region to make the pledge.

With Cop26 due to begin in Glasgow in a few days' time, the announcement could not have come at a more appropriate time. If the Expo reaffirmed the UAE as a progressive and futuristic nation, the net-zero announcement and a commitment to cut its methane emissions by at least 30 per cent before 2030 further reaffirmed its conservation and climate leadership. It told the world that the UAE, despite being an oil and gas-based economy, is committed to sustainability.

The announcement means a lot to us as the environmental regulator in Abu Dhabi, and I look forward to working with all key stakeholders in the government towards making this strategic initiative a reality in Abu Dhabi. We are tackling climate change with utmost urgency, so much so that we have included it in our 2021-2025 strategy. We will continue to build on our greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory, which identifies current levels of emissions as well an estimate of projected emission up to 2030. We will revisit our emission reduction targets and ensure a mix of mitigation and adaptation measures.

Achieving net-zero in the next three decades requires a transformation in key sectors such as energy, transportation and infrastructure. Developing affordable energy solutions with low emission levels will determine our progress. We must remove residual GHG emissions in sectors where it is difficult to decarbonise, using natural and artificial carbon sinks, and advance Abu Dhabi’s economic diversification agenda through innovation.

We have, meanwhile, committed ourselves to sustainable production and consumption, under the ”UN Decade of Action to achieve Sustainable Development”. The pledge raises climate and human health ambitions while reemphasising the need to reverse the biodiversity loss by 2030.

This pledge comes at an exciting time for EAD, with the world having just elected our managing director, Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the world’s oldest and largest conservation organisation. Our already strong partnership with the IUCN will be further bolstered by Ms Al Mubarak’s election.

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We are tackling climate change with utmost urgency

Another feather in the UAE's cap is its successful bid to hold Cop28 in Abu Dhabi, which reflects the mood of this young and confident nation.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, summed up our nation’s desire to act best, when – shortly before the UAE won the bid – he said: “As a nation committed to international co-operation and positive action, the UAE is ready and willing to host this crucial global gathering aimed at accelerating efforts to address our planet’s shared climate challenges.”

It goes without saying that it will be an honour for us to host the event in two years’ time.

The commitments that the UAE made in Glasgow this month are significant also because the country gets ready to celebrate 50 years of what's been a remarkable journey. Even as we reflect on the past half a century, our leadership is already working on a roadmap for the half a century, as it focuses on inclusive growth and sustainable development. To my mind, ours will be a growth that is rimmed by the country's climate and conservation aspirations – and where our youth will be its chief drivers.

I have no doubt that we will have a smooth transition to clean energy – a transition that had already been set in motion with the establishment of Masdar City, the Barakah nuclear plant and solar parks across the Emirates. It's worth noting that we have been the permanent hosts of Irena over much of the past decade.

Be that as it may, there will be a bigger push to scale up clean energy transition efforts in the country and beyond. Earlier this month, the UAE and Irena jointly set up a $1bn climate finance facility to help developing countries transition to renewable energy. This is just the beginning of an enhanced climate financing ecosystem.

There is no doubt the next few years will prove consequential for humanity, as we strive to cut carbon emissions, reverse the loss of species, restore degraded ecosystems and, above all, raise hopes for the seven-plus billion people living on the planet and subsequent generations. Only time will tell how we fare in this regard, but I am positive that the pledges and ambitions articulated by various countries in Glasgow this month will transition into action.

I am even hopeful of seeing these transitions in my lifetime.

Published: November 23rd 2021, 4:00 AM
Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri

Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri

Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri is secretary-general of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi