The best win-win scenario is when you do the right thing to serve your own interests, while also making everyone else a winner of your actions.
The UAE's climate action is a textbook example of such a favourable situation, so much so that we can safely assume that even without concerted global action on climate change, the country would have taken that road alone.
The UAE’s leadership looks at the environment challenge as an opportunity rather than a liability, and plans, as announced by President Sheikh Mohamed, during his participation at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate hosted by US President Joe Biden few months ago, to dedicate “$50 billion to address climate change across the world”. According to The National: “Sheikh Mohamed said the UAE had invested more than $50bn in renewable energy projects across 40 countries, and it plans to double that over the next decade.”
This is not merely the story of a country that delivers when it comes to its obligations as a member of the international family. The UAE stands out as a huge contributor to this global cause, for example, as the host of the International Renewable Energy Agency. It has provided more than $1bn in renewable energy aid across 70 countries, as well as billions of dollars for climate-linked humanitarian relief. The UAE was the first in the Middle East to sign the Paris Agreement, the first to file its Nationally Determined Contribution in 2015, and among the 13 countries that have submitted their second NDC.
Hosting the 28th UN Climate Change Conference, or Cop28, in 2023, will be yet another of these major milestones in UAE's climate action for the international community.
This is only one aspect of a bigger picture. Through leadership and by example, the UAE is demonstrating to its peers that investment in the fight against the climate challenge is lucrative from multiple angles. This is especially true given the world's accelerating shift in energy sources from fossil fuels to clean energy, a change that complements the drive towards a knowledge-based economy.
This is, of course, not to say that the world is ready to make this energy shift prematurely, because it will leave gaps in energy security worldwide. Speaking to The National recently, the UAE’s Climate Change Special Envoy, Dr Sultan Al Jaber, said: “The reality is that energy security and climate action go hand-in-hand. In fact, you can’t have one without the other. The simple fact is that if people’s basic energy needs are not met, economies slow down and that also puts the brakes on climate action. Policymakers are beginning to understand the fact that the energy transition will not happen with the flip of a switch. They are ready for a pragmatic conversation on what a realistic energy transition looks like.”
This transition is happening at the right pace, involving a makeover of investment policies in the region, and it is likely to attract foreign investments in the sector. In fact, the trend witnessed in the UAE has prompted the US Department of Commerce to urge American exporters to seize the “many opportunities in the clean tech and environmental technologies sectors in the UAE”.
"UAE leadership recognises that pursuing the country’s economic growth and protecting the environment can be achieved together," the department's July 2022 report reads, highlighting the fact that “the UAE has pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and announced it would invest $163bn in clean and renewable energy and key technologies [by the same year]”.
There is an element of soft power here, a key pillar of the UAE's foreign policy, in which aid plays a central role. The way these policy goals reinforce one another is evident in how UAE foreign aid sent to fragile countries is meant to be spent on building renewable power plants.
Another vital issue while speaking about climate change is the widely acknowledged and tangible threat it poses to national security. In its 2015 national security strategy, the US administration identified climate change as "an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water”.
The UAE has been aware of this all along. Ahead of Cop26 in Glasgow, Scotland, the country joined voices calling for more global attention to the security impact of climate change.
As Egypt is preparing the stage for Cop27 next month, to be followed by the 2023 Emirates-hosted edition of the event, the UAE will keep advocating an approach to climate change, summed up by Dr Al Jaber, who has said “as Cop28 host, the UAE will act as a powerful convener, leveraging its experience in bridge-building climate diplomacy to drive a ‘leave no one behind’ approach to inclusive climate action”.
For all to be on board, they need to follow the example set by the UAE, which wants everyone involved in the global community's efforts on climate change to emerge a winner.