The world should cut emissions, not progress

Developments this week show the UAE is focused on getting the balance right when it comes to tackling climate change

Cop28 President-designate Dr Sultan Al Jaber discussed key elements of the UAE’s climate policy at the inaugural Climate Tech event in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. AFP
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It has been a significant week for the UAE’s environmental efforts. As well as the inaugural two-day UAE Climate Tech event taking place in Abu Dhabi, it was confirmed on Monday that funding for an initiative led by the Emirates and the US to develop climate-friendly farming has grown to more than $13 billion, passing the $10bn target set for Cop28, the global climate change summit to be held in the UAE later this year.

In a wide-ranging speech to the Climate Tech gathering yesterday, Cop28 President-designate Dr Sultan Al Jaber discussed key elements of the UAE’s climate policy, talking about solar power, hydrogen technology and carbon capture. Importantly, he also highlighted how the right approaches could cut emissions while supporting a sustainable, low-carbon economy. The focus was on the need to cut emissions, not progress, with a prioritisation of sustainable economic developments.

These two developments point to a comprehensive and multifaceted approach to the world’s rapidly changing environment. The Abu Dhabi event involves pivotal UAE players, such as Adnoc and Masdar, joining more than 100 companies, executives and senior energy industry figures to discuss practical, cutting-edge technological solutions to global warming. These include robotics and AI, carbon capture, digitalisation, alternative fuels, hydrogen, as well as new and low-carbon energy initiatives.

On the other hand, the UAE – a country with a relatively modest agricultural sector – is taking a leading role in the 50-country Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate, or Aim for Climate, programme to build more resilient and sustainable food-production and supply networks, as well as cutting agricultural emissions. The billions in funding commitments secured this week will go towards, among other things, initiatives to support smallholder farmers, emerging technologies and methane reduction. This is an important sector to focus on – agriculture plays a critical part of global warming and in 2021, the World Bank called it “a major part of the climate problem” that generates between 19 and 29 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Informing both these aspects of climate-related work is a healthy dose of realism when it comes to overnight change and the importance of maintaining economic growth. Regarding agriculture, there is an understanding that the world still needs industrial levels of farming to feed billions of people and support national economies as well as countless local livelihoods. It is a question of mitigating agriculture’s worst by-products and developing newer, smarter and more sustainable ways of producing enough food for everyone, as well as cutting food waste – another issue that the UAE has been focusing a considerable amount of energy on.

Similarly, Dr Al Jaber – who is also the Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology – when addressing the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, Texas in March, pointed out that “for high-emitting sectors, renewable energy is just not going to be enough”. And after completing a two-day trip to China last month, he said: "We need to explore every available option. It is not renewables or hydrogen or nuclear or carbon capture or only using the least carbon-intensive oil and gas. It is all of the above, plus new technologies yet to be invented, commercialised and deployed.”

The challenges are considerable but the energy and time being invested in practical solutions to the problems thrown up by climate change should be reassuring. Steering clear of quick fixes or approaches that leave behind the developing world is a wise path to take. What this week shows is that when it comes to the interrelated challenges posed by man-made climate change, the UAE is joining the dots.

Published: May 11, 2023, 3:00 AM