The UAE has set out targets to limit greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade as part of its commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The country aims to cut emissions by nearly a quarter by 2030 compared to “business as usual”, which does not take into account the latest commitments.
Increases in clean power capacity, especially through solar and nuclear energy, are central to the efforts to battle climate change.
The measures are detailed in the UAE’s second Nationally Determined Contribution, a document just submitted to the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as part of the country’s Paris Agreement commitments.
Dr Abdullah Al Nuaimi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said the UAE’s “commitment to driving climate action at home and abroad has been steadfast”.
“In the past five years, it has achieved multiple milestones on the climate mitigation and adaptation fronts,” Dr Al Nuaimi said.
“With higher ambitions, the country’s second NDC under the Paris Agreement strengthens the global response to the threat of climate change in line with the country’s commitment to shaping a better future for the current and next generations.”
The country aims to limit greenhouse gas emissions to about 240 million tonnes by 2030, down 22.5 per cent compared to the business as usual figure of 310 million tonnes.
Helped by better technology and tougher regulations, initiatives will promote sustainable agriculture, energy efficiency and clean energy, and cut food waste and transport emissions.
The UAE also wants to increase capacity for carbon capture, use and storage, for which the country set up the region’s first commercial-scale network to speed up technology introduction.
Investments of more than $40 billion mean that clean power capacity in the UAE has increased significantly.
In 2015, it was just over 100 megawatts, but is now 2,400MW and should reach 14,000MW by 2030.
A milestone was reached this year when Unit 1 of the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant in Abu Dhabi emirate began operating.
The plant will eventually have four operational advanced pressurised water reactors with a total generation capacity of 5,600MW.
The UAE also has a National Climate Change Adaptation Programme, which involves sectors such as energy, health, infrastructure and the environment.
By 2030, the country plans to plant 30 million mangrove seedlings, which capture carbon dioxide and protect against climate change effects such as sea level rise.
The UAE has also been active abroad by investing in renewable energy projects worth $16.8bn in 70 countries, and providing $400 million in aid and loans.
Climate change is now one of the world’s biggest political and environmental issues, with average global temperatures having increased 0.18°C a decade since 1981, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says.
Research published this year found that since 1979, instances of extreme humid heat, about half of which occurred on the Arabian Peninsula, have doubled.
International efforts go back decades and include the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, where the UN framework treaty was agreed to and signed.
At a conference, in Warsaw, Poland, in 2013, signatories were asked to publish Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which evolved into NDCs under the Paris Agreement.
Based on five-year commitments, the Paris Agreement, signed by 196 countries and other authorities in December 2015, aims to limit global average temperature to “well below” 2°C and ideally to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Submitted in 2015, the UAE’s first NDC said the country aimed for clean energy to account for 24 per cent of the energy mix by 2021.
Bob Ward, of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said the UAE's 2020 commitments represented “an advance” on the 2015 submission.
“The target of limiting emissions to about 240 million tonnes by 2030 is presented as a significant cut relative to an upward ‘business as usual’ trend," Mr Ward said.
But he said that current emissions levels, which had increased since 2015, should also be accounted for.
Mr Ward said the UAE’s per capita emissions, at more than 20 tonnes a person a year, were among the world’s highest.
He said reaching net-zero emissions would be "particularly challenging" not just in decarbonising the domestic economy, but also because of the reliance on fossil fuel exports.
“The new pledge recognises the importance of diversifying its economy and the rest of the world should support the Emirates’ efforts in this direction,” Mr Ward said.
He said it was also important to recognise that communities and businesses across the Gulf were among those vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and temperature increases.