This year, the UAE will emerge on the world’s stage like never before. We’re all looking to the future. Not just to Cop28, when the world will converge at Expo City to discuss global progress towards the Paris Agreement, but beyond.
When the UAE’s Year of Sustainability concludes, how will we continue to work towards a sustainable future?
Some international observers have raised doubts about our commitment to climate action given our historical role as one of the world’s main hydrocarbon producers. Perhaps they’re unaware of the progress we have made in recent years in diversifying our economy and transitioning away from fossil fuels.
Today, the UAE is home to several vast renewable energy power plants, including the Arab world’s largest civilian nuclear energy plant and the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the largest single-site solar park in the world. By 2030, it will have a 5,000 MW capacity, and when completed, it will save more than 6.5 million tonnes of carbon emissions every year.
The UAE is also home to the International Renewable Energy Agency, as well as Masdar, one of the world’s largest clean energy companies, which has invested in numerous projects around the globe.
A lesser-known component of the UAE’s leadership in sustainability is its focus on green financing, which is playing a vital role in the fight against climate change. A 2022 report by the Independent High-Level Expert Group on Climate Finance estimates that annual investments in climate action need to increase to $1 trillion in 2025 and $2.4 trillion by 2030 for us to meet climate targets.
The UAE has decisively stepped up, investing $100 billion in renewable energy over the past 15 years. Together with the US, it has pledged to invest a further $100 billion in financing and other support by 2035.
UAE entities are following suit. Masdar recently completed its first green bond issuance for $750 million 10-year senior unsecured notes at London Stock Exchange. Additionally, Taqa recently listed its dual-tranche $1.5 billion bonds on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange’s main market. This debt capital will fund several new clean energy projects.
Such critical investment is transforming the cost of green energy. In 2009, the cost of Masdar solar energy was about 40 cents for every kilowatt hour. Today, thanks in large part to Masdar’s investments, it’s under 2 cents – among the cheapest energy in the world.
The UAE makes a compelling business case for sustainable development and investment in renewable energy, leveraging its excellent reputation for excelling in business.
Masdar City, which has been pioneering sustainable urban development for 15 years, exemplifies this. Its leaders have prioritised green innovation, research and development, and technology, and it is now home to one of the largest clusters of Leed Platinum buildings in the world.
The commercial buildings currently have a 98 per cent occupancy rate, and Masdar City remains one of the most sought-after areas in Abu Dhabi for homebuyers in 2023. Additionally, three net-zero energy projects are under construction in the city.
The growth of Masdar City has paved the way for the formation of the Masdar Green Real Estate Investment Trust (Reit), the first of its kind in the region. It was established in 2020 at the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) with an initial valuation of more than $250 million.
Today, it is one of the few green Reits worldwide consisting entirely of Leed Platinum and Gold buildings, and its valuation is nearly $750 million. This year, it issued a memorandum allowing third-party institutional investors to buy into the fund.
ADGM and the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) are other national examples of sustainable finance.
ADGM has recently partnered with the Global Green Finance Index, which reports on the quality and depth of the green finance offerings of the world’s leading financial centres. It is also exploring the introduction of its own Sustainable Finance Regulatory Framework.
According to DIFC chief executive Arif Amiri, market capitalisation of ESG-inspired bonds now makes up more than 10 per cent of total outstanding bonds, worth more than $10 billion. This underlines the potential of private finance to incentivise the adoption of more sustainable practices by its investee companies.
Other UAE entities, including the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Mubadala, are also prioritising climate finance, with total investments in the hundreds of billions.
These measures are already having far-reaching impacts, even in traditional areas of the UAE economy, as evidenced by Adnoc Distribution’s recent pledge to lower the carbon footprint of its operations using sustainability-linked funding.
Some have critiqued the UAE’s use of oil revenue in climate action, but this has allowed it to diversify its economy and kickstart a world-leading renewable energy sector while the world continues its gradual transition from fossil fuels.
Thanks to these investments, sustainable industries and sectors will soon outpace oil. In the first quarter of 2023 alone, the UAE’s economy grew by 3.8 per cent on an annual basis thanks to non-oil sectors. This follows a credit rating of AA2 by Moody’s, affirming the strength of the economy.
Our trajectory is clear – and this is only the beginning. The UAE has a legacy of engaging with global entities such as the UN and World Bank to drive progress, share best practices, and offer international development aid. National initiatives undertaken in conjunction with these organisations such as the Zayed Sustainability Prize continue helping sustainability projects around the world scale and thrive.
This legacy of international collaboration will continue at Cop28, through which we will strive to help other countries, particularly developing countries, address the economic realities of sustainability, including the initial cost.
This is at the heart of realising the Paris Agreement. Transitioning to clean energy isn’t just a necessity. It’s also a lucrative business opportunity, as we have demonstrated – but it’s one that requires serious capital.