DOHA // The UAE will not commit to legally binding targets to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases because it faces unique national circumstances that should be recognised by climate change negotiators.
That was the view given by Majid Al Suwaidi, the UAE's lead negotiatsummit in Doha, Qatar, to activists who were urging Arabian Gulf governments to pledge reductions in their emission levels.
Mr Al Suwaidi also said that the onus to act was with the developed countries historically responsible for high levels of emissions rather than countries such as the UAE, which may have high per-capita emissions, but is responsible for only a fraction of global emissions.
"We have been blessed with oil and gas but unfortunately we do not have water, we have a hot climate. We do not have the ability to grow food so we have many issues that we have to deal with as a country and climate change will impact us greatly in the future," Mr Al Suwaidi told The National.
"We have a number of initiatives in the country that really show that the UAE is going above and beyond what many countries are doing," he added.
He recounted some of the steps the country had made, such as setting up the clean energy company, Masdar, renewable energy targets, and the Estidama green building rating system.
The UAE would continue to act, but in a voluntary way, he said.
"The UAE recognises it is important all countries take on responsibilities, and of course we would not shy away from being partners in trying to tackle this problem."
"All we ask for is that our national circumstances are taken into account and that we are allowed to deliver in a voluntary way those things we think we are able to deliver. We do no believe in promising things that we do not think we can achieve."
The Doha talks aim to negotiate a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, under which only developed states are responsible for implementing legally-binding cuts.
Delegates are also expected to chart the way a new, more ambitious agreement by 2015 which would require more countries, especially those in the developing world responsible for large levels of emissions, to agree to targets. Ultimately, the talks aim to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, a goal that scientists and activists warn is slipping out of their grasp.
Qatar is the first Arabian Gulf state to host the annual talks and activists had hoped the country would make an official pledge to reduce its emissions, as a symbolic step to show its support of efforts to solve the climate problem. However, Qatar, is yet to make such a pledge.
Wael Hmaidan, director of Climate Action Network-International, a group of 700 environmental organisations from around the globe, said the inaction of Qatar and its neighbours - including the UAE - was disappointing.
"The question is, if they are doing actions, why don't they bring them forward as pledges to the international community," he said.
Pledges by Gulf states could also help in bringing the world closer "to closing the ambition gap between the actions that countries have committed to and the actions required to save the planet from catastrophic climate change impact".
"The way it is happening now, we are in a very dangerous area in terms of the uncertainty if we are going to be able to close the gap or not," said Mr Hmaidan. "This is one of the important issues actually discussed here."
Mr Al Suwaidi, however, said that the onus to act was on developed countries, who have the historic responsibility for the high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and countries with large emission levels. Although the UAE's emissions are the third highest in the world on per capita basis, the country's overall contribution to the problem is less than 1 per cent.
"We could implement all the mitigation efforts that are known to man at great expense and it would have very minimal impact," he said. "The real leadership needs to come from those large emitters ... those are the ones that are going to have the greatest impact on helping to tackle this problem.
"We feel that per capita measurements are fairly simplistic and really unfair. We live in an environment and situation that is very challenging. As you know, we are dependent on air-conditioning and energy-intensive processes just to simply create environments in which we can live and develop as a country," said Mr Al Suwaidi.
The talks are scheduled to finish today although discussions may spill into the early morning of tomorrow.
While some areas of the negotiations are progressing, others have stalled with many blaming the United States for impeding progress, especially on the issues of finance and common accounting rules for emission reductions.
"The big elephant in the room is the US, it is obvious," said Mr Hmaidan. "US politics is hampering the US from moving forward. Although President Obama mentioned climate change many times after his election, still, there is completely no change in the position, which is a disappointment."