Half a decade has passed since the signing of the Paris Agreement – an unprecedented pledge made by countries to spur transformative action to counter the existential threat of climate change.
Although these five years have witnessed the uptick of international co-operation on climate, they have also seen a 400 per cent rise in the frequency of extreme weather events.
Over the years, the pace of climate change has had increasingly destructive effects on the planet. Therefore, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently called on all leaders worldwide to declare a State of Climate Emergency in their countries.
Emissions reduction on track
As a strong advocate of environmental protection, the UAE has marked the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement with renewed resolve and enhanced ambition to address climate change. The country took a new step on the path to a climate-safe future with the submission of its second nationally determined contribution (NDC) last month to the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Its new commitments involve climate change mitigation and adaptation.
In its second NDC, the UAE pledges to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 23.5 per cent compared to business as usual for the year 2030. This translates into absolute emission reduction of about 70 million tonnes.
To achieve this target, the UAE seeks to continue to cut down on emissions across key economic sectors through regulatory and technology interventions. In this context, the country has established the region’s first commercial-scale carbon capture, use and storage network, advancing the deployment of a technology critical for carbon abatement and climate change mitigation.
The UAE’s clean power capacity, including solar and nuclear, is on track to reach 14 GW by 2030 – a remarkable progress from just above 100 MW in 2015. To date, the country has invested over $40 billion in clean energy projects locally.
Solar power achievements
Al Dhafra region in the emirate of Abu Dhabi is about to become home to the world’s largest solar power plant with the capacity of 2 GW. In April 2020, the winning bid for the project broke yet another world record for the lowest solar power generation cost at 1.35 US cents per kilowatt-hour. Just days later, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority awarded the contract for the fifth phase of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park to a consortium of companies. Once completed in 2030, the facility will have a production capacity of 5 GW, making it the largest single-site solar park in the world based on the "independent power producer" model.
August 2020 saw the launch of the first reactor of the 5,600 MW Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant that has established the UAE as the first Arab country to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. In December 2020, the reactor reached 100 per cent capacity and is now generating 1,400 MW of electricity. Once all its four reactors are fully operational, the plant will provide up to 25 per cent of the country’s electricity needs from a carbon-free power source, and save up to 21 million tonnes of carbon emissions every year, equivalent to removing 3.2 million cars from the roads.
Furthermore, the UAE has expedited the global shift to renewable energy through repeatedly breaking world records for the lowest-level cost of electricity, and investing in renewables projects in 70 countries.
In addition to the deployment of clean energy, the UAE has developed ambitious plans for reducing energy consumption and improving energy efficiency across demand sectors. These involve the implementation of emirate-specific green building regulations as well as rating schemes for new buildings and retrofitting programs for existing buildings.
The world is already witnessing the impacts of climate change, and the UAE’s harsh desert environment makes it vulnerable in this regard. To address imminent risks and enhance its adaptive capacity, the country aims to strengthen the climate resilience of priority sectors, including energy, infrastructure, health, and environment, informed by a scientific assessment of climate risks, as part of its National Climate Change Adaptation Programme.
Blue carbon ecosytems
The UAE will plant 30m mangrove seedlings by 2030 to conserve coastal blue carbon ecosystems. Mangroves provide a range of ecosystem services, such as climate change mitigation and adaptation benefits. As natural carbon sinks, they sequester over 1m tonnes of carbon dioxide in the UAE annually.
They also act as natural barriers against sea level rise and storm surges, provide breeding grounds for marine species, and create opportunities for ecotourism. Conserving these important ecosystems is one of the promising ways to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide and enhance associated socio-economic opportunities.
Through its new set of commitments, the UAE is building on the success of the approach it has adopted since the beginning – addressing risks and challenges while harnessing opportunities for growth and diversification. Investment in renewable energy has proven to be extremely promising. The country also seeks to accelerate its transition to a green economy – the fastest-growing economic model – and wider implementation of the principles of circular economy with a focus on turning waste from an environmental burden into an economic resource.
Through promoting sustainable production and consumption, it aims to conserve its natural resources and cut down on production and operational costs. In this regard, the UAE government regularly rolls out initiatives and campaigns to raise environmental awareness and encourage community members to adopt an environmentally friendly lifestyle.
In the past few years, the UAE has taken decisive action to mitigate climate change and adapt to its imminent impacts, outlining a long-term climate and energy policy pathway. In 2017, the country adopted the National Climate Change Plan of the UAE 2017-2050 that sets a framework for the management of greenhouse gas emissions, climate change adaptation, and private sector-driven innovative economic diversification.
With the submission of its second NDC, the UAE, a progressive country that is heavily invested in economic and energy diversification, underscores its dedication to moving the needle on climate change.
However, despite the collective efforts exerted to combat climate change, the path to a climate-safe future is still long. We urge countries to strengthen their climate commitments, because more needs to be done. Climate change poses a significant challenge to our economies and societies, and combating it requires long-term sustainable strategies.
As His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, noted when he announced the UAE’s submission of its second NDC, that “climate change is the most prominent battle for mankind in the coming decades to preserve planet Earth for new generations”.
Dr Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi is Minister of Climate Change and Environment