UAE gears up for United Nations climate change summit in Abu Dhabi

UN chief António Guterres will be in the capital to ramp up efforts to tackle the threat

FILE - In this April 3, 2014 file photo giant machines dig for brown coal at the open-cast mining Garzweiler in front of a power plant near the city of Grevenbroich in western Germany. Allianz says it will stop insuring coal-fired power plants and coal mines as part of its contribution to combating climate change. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
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Political leaders, green energy experts and the head of the United Nations will descend on Abu Dhabi on Sunday to ramp up efforts to tackle the “defining issue of our time”.

More than 1,000 attendees are expected in the capital for the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting with topics under discussion including threats to human health and the economic benefits of tackling the issue.

Speaking on Wednesday ahead of the event, Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, said it was a privilege to partner with the UN at such a critical time.

“We are all aware that the threat of climate change is so serious that it requires international cooperation and multilateral climate action,” he said.

“Climate change used to be about environment but is now also about people. The UAE is, therefore, honoured to serve as the host for such significant discussion.”

This is not a business as usual event. The seriousness and interest are there

Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the UN, convened the two-day event to lay the groundwork for September’s UN climate summit – a call to arms for global political leaders to face the issue head on and implement the Paris deal.

The Paris deal seeks to keep any increase in global temperatures to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to limit the increase to 1.5°C and Sunday’s meeting will draft the agenda for September’s summit.

But across the globe, the situation is grave. The UN has warned that the world faces increases of more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in a decade if there is no change to how we live. Sea levels are rising, droughts commonplace and the lives of millions of people are endangered.

On Tuesday, a UN expert warned of possible “climate apartheid” in which the rich pay to escape from hunger “while the rest of the world is left to suffer”.

Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty, also criticised UN responses to climate change as inadequate.

Mr Al Zeyoudi said political leaders were aware of the gravity of the situation. “Absolutely. The seriousness and interest are there,” he said.

“We are now taking about action rather than negotiation.”

The UAE has its own challenges. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gas emissions and is mainly created by fossil fuels. According to the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, the emirate’s carbon dioxide emissions per capita are about 37 metric tonnes, one of the world’s highest rates.

But the UAE has begun the fight back, by launching awareness campaigns, improving education and starting the switch to renewables. Abu Dhabi also introduced energy tariffs and showed reasonable water use limits on bills in an effort to get people to think about how they used resources.

Mr Al Zeyoudi said the Abu Dhabi summit will send a clear message that leaders care about the environment and people’s health while also trying to harness the interest of the country’s young people.

“This is not a business as usual event,” said Mr Al Zeyoudi. “The [meeting] will set the course for the climate action summit in New York this September.”

The Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting will take place in the capital on Sunday and Monday.