The UAE rises to the challenge of climate change

Laura El Katiri puts the climate change meeting in Morocco and the implementation of the Paris Agreement into context

Those who had hoped for a fast-track adoption of the ­Paris Agreement in Marrakech were disappointed. Fadel Senna / AFP
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This month, the 22nd round of negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Cop 22, came to a close in Marrakech.

The agenda of the meeting was crowded, as Marrakech was widely seen as the first opportunity to put into operation the Paris Agreement that was negotiated in December last year.

Those who had hoped for a fast-track adoption of the ­Paris Agreement in Marrakech were – expectedly, perhaps – disappointed. So were those hoping that Marrakech would tackle one of the key unresolved issues: the question of who will pay for climate mitigation and adaptation efforts in those countries that cannot afford to do so out of their own pockets.

The clash between developing countries’ expectations for concrete financial commitments from developed countries – such as a dedicated climate fund – and the reality of climate politics in many richer, industrialised nations has been one of the biggest obstacles to fast climate action that involves every nation.

The ascendancy of Republican Donald Trump, who is reportedly looking into ways of withdrawing the United States’ support for the Paris Agreement after he takes office in January, has not been helpful.

Parties to the meeting in Marrakech effectively endorsed previously stated objectives. These include the mobilisation of $100 billion (Dh367bn) a year in climate finance in the period 2020-2025. However, there is no effective mechanism to collect and channel this money to developing countries. It is ­also unclear whether finance is available in developed countries.

Failure to agree on climate finance could become expensive for everyone.

A recent United Nations Environment Programme report emphasises the difficulty of adequately estimating the costs for global adaptation to climate change, but suggests that the required financial resources could be three times higher than expected for the period 2010–2030, and four to five times higher for the period up to 2050.

This indicates that the costs of adaptation could range from $140bn to $300bn by 2030, and between $280bn and $500bn by 2050.

This does not include the cost of acting on the damage that will have been done by droughts and other extreme weather phenomena, acidic waterways, and the loss of habitat and agricultural stock.

One of the positive signs is that some of the fossil fuel-rich economies of the Middle East have started to endorse climate action.

Alongside conference host Morocco, the UAE has arguably been the Arab world’s most vocal proponent of positive climate action.

It has done so by acknowledging at the highest levels the urgency of climate action; promoting sustainable urban development practices and regulatory frameworks aimed at increasing energy efficiency; and through the pursuit of more proactive policies to increase the share of climate-friendly renewable sources in the energy mix.

This is a strong indicator not only of the importance of political will, but also of the development opportunities associated with climate-friendly growth whose benefits will be reaped by future generations.

But to get there, a lot more action is needed. In common with other countries that have endorsed the Paris Agreement, the UAE can now start implementing the right mix of incentives to create more energy-efficient housing and transport systems.

With Masdar City, this country already has an experimental platform for modern urban design, lessons from which could be transferred to future building projects with much greater rigour.

The Gulf economies may not be the world’s largest emitters, but they can provide examples of good conduct when it comes to tackling climate change. Further industrial and energy growth will eventually need to go hand-in-hand with policies to contain energy waste and the pollution of our natural habitat.

Our vulnerability to climate change means that, in the end, we are all in the same boat.

Laura El Katiri is a consultant in Abu Dhabi specialising in economic, energy and environmental policy

On Twitter: @lauraelkatiri