Climate Change and Mitigation Efforts in the UAE

By: Nivine Issa

Date Published: January 5, 2019

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Climate change and global warming are two distinct phenomena that are often confused. Climate change is one of the effects of global warming, the latter being defined as the “recent and ongoing rise in global average temperature near the Earth’s surface due to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere” (USEPA, 2016). Climate change has been evident throughout many areas in the world, through changes in precipitation, extreme weather conditions, floods, droughts, heat waves, and rising sea levels. In fact, 2015 was recently determined as the hottest year globally since 1880, at 0.9oC higher than in the pre-industrial era (NASA, 2016). All of the above has urged many countries around the world to take part in international conventions and initiatives to alleviate climate change. 

The UAE has not been exempt from the impacts of climatic change and has begun formulating long term plans to combat climate change. This brief review paper shall examine the effects and consequences of climate change in the UAE and demonstrate some of the initiatives that are currently being developed. 

Climate change is an increasingly important matter in the UAE as evident consequences have been observed over the years, from rising sea levels to fluctuations in climatic conditions. The uncertainty and unpredictability of climate change in the region, together with its non-quantifiable effects, have urged the UAE to push ahead in the sector of sustainability, ahead of many of its neighboring countries. 

The recently adopted Paris Agreement has been a historical breakthrough in multilateral climate change policy, comprising improved contributions with respect to climate change mitigation from all countries. The UAE formally ratified the Paris Climate Agreement on September 4th 2016. The Paris Agreement has been a product of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP) which was held in Paris from November 30th to December 11th 2015 – more commonly known as COP21. 

In principle, the Paris Agreement aims to maintain the temperature rise between 2o and 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels in line with the latest climatic studies. In order to have a chance to stay below the temperature goal, peaking of GHG emissions should be reached ‘as soon as possible’ and net zero emissions should be achieved in the second half of this century (UNFCCC Conference of the Parties, 2015). Amongst many other responsibilities, all parties to the UNFCCC have to submit a national inventory of GHG emissions. There are five sectors that are thoroughly assessed in GHG inventories and they include energy, industrial processes, agriculture, land-use change and forestry, and waste management. 

The UAE developed their first greenhouse gases inventory in 1994 and the net carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions were 74,436 Gg, of which 60,246 Gg was carbon dioxide – mainly attributed to fossil fuel production and combustion as well as the energy sector (MoE, 2006). The below table demonstrates the total GHG emissions in the UAE in 1994: 

Table 1: Total GHG emissions in the UAE (1994) 

The UAE is one of the key players in the global energy production sector, and is actually considered to have one of the world’s highest energy consumption rates, which imposes significant strains on the environment. Over the period 2008-2012, the energy demand rose by 49.7% for Abu Dhabi Water and Energy Company (ADWEC) and 25.8% for Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) (MoE, 2015). The energy consumption rate per capita has risen over the years, which consequently led to higher CO2 emissions per capita than all Middle Eastern countries except Qatar and Bahrain. The below chart shows the per capita CO2 emissions in all Middle Eastern Countries from 1980 till 2008 (Odhiambo, 2012). 

Per capita CO2 emissions in all Middle Eastern Countries from 1980 till 2008 (Odhiambo, 2012). 

If unmitigated, climate change can have detrimental effects on the UAE’s vulnerable environment in areas such as coastal zones, water resources, dry land ecosystems, public health and energy infrastructure. With a projected temperature increase of 2.3oC to 5.9oC, a projected rainfall of 45% less or 22% more and sea level rise of 9 to 88cm, all by 2100 (MoE. 2006), the UAE is sure to experience the counter effects of climate change. The below is a brief list of anticipated effects of climate change on the UAE’s vulnerable environment: 

  • Shortage of water resources due to increases in temperature, and associated evapotranspiration.
  • Significant saltwater intrusion into groundwater resources, which are already being over exploited. 
  • Land degradation and declined agricultural productivity of 20% by 2050 due to increased soil salinity and decreased rainfall.
  • Decreased soil moisture leading in changes in dry land ecosystems.
  • Decreased thermal comfort and increased air pollution and related diseases, smog and dispersion of allergens.
  • Changes in human settlements through redistribution of the population, land use changes and different commercial patterns.
  • Decreased efficiency of desalination plants due to increased seawater temperature and reductions in power supply.
  • Erosion and flooding of coastal sabkhas due to increased sea levels and consequential effects on fauna and flora (MOE, 2006). 

The UAE has always acknowledged environmental concerns over the years, and has particularly taken leadership in combating climate change. 

Within the COP21 Paris Agreement, developing countries that are ready and capable, such as emerging economies like the UAE, are encouraged to move towards more comprehensive mitigation efforts and join developed countries in putting forward economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. 

Sustainability and environmental policies and initiatives are amongst the most important elements of the UAE’s overall policy agenda on varied topics including biodiversity conservation, green buildings and energy efficiency, sustainable energy production, an integrated water resources management framework, and air pollution monitoring. Some of these initiatives include green building rating systems such as Estidama and the newly launched Al Sa’afat in Dubai, the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI), ambitious solar energy targets and the UAE ecological footprint initiative. 

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment’s work on the UAE National Climate Change Plan kicked off in June 2016, and seeks to formulate targets and adaptation measures that will prove that climate change adaptation actually works in parallel with increased economic growth and development (MOCCAE, 2016). 

Some of the mitigation measures that are currently being considered and could be implemented vary across different sectors: residential and commercial buildings, transportation, industrial, and forestry. 

In the building industry, green building codes, efficiency of appliances and equipment, the adoption of district cooling, energy efficient retrofit programs, and the application of rooftop solar systems are some initiatives that the UAE has already started implementing but will continue to explore. 

Another significant contributing factor to the UAE GHG emissions is the transportation sector, and setting standards for fuel and vehicle efficiency can help alleviate some of those emissions. An effective means of decreasing single-passenger vehicle trips is strengthening the public transport system, something that the UAE’s transport authorities have been significantly investing in over the past decade with projects such as the Dubai Metro and the Dubai Tram. 

In the industrial sector, decreasing GHG emissions could be achieved through the use of more energy efficient equipment that ultimately reduce energy consumption by significant amounts. And in forestry, the existing and future greenification plans of the country’s erstwhile ruler Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan will help the overall carbon sequestration in the country, alleviating some of the GHG emissions. With regards to waste, the most contributing factor to GHG emissions is methane from municipal landfills and the UAE currently has plans for waste to energy plants and capturing methane from landfills could be one option. 

In addition to government policies and guidelines, private corporations and industries also have the responsibility to contribute to the UAE’s national policy for Climate Change alleviation and adaptation. In fact, many medium-to-large corporations monitor specific environmental KPIs such as CO2 emissions, water and electricity use and recycling as part of their annual sustainability reporting. Many of them have also committed to implementing sustainable practices as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility strategy. 

The quest towards combating climate change in the UAE is one that will require efforts from the public and private sector, as well as public private partnerships. In order for the UAE to meet its targets, the UAE Climate Change Plan has to incorporate elements of data collection and transparency, data accessibility, reporting needs, climate change mitigation initiatives and roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders as well as an implementation strategy. The UAE has been at the forefront of environmental initiatives in the region, and with an international focus on climate change mitigation and adaptation, the innovation and leadership of the UAE in this regard will stand the nation in good stead in rising to the challenges of climate change adaptation and mitigation. 

Nivine Issa

Partner and Global Environmental Director, Dubai

Nivine is AESG’s Partner and Global Director of Environment. Nivine joined AESG in 2014 and has a combined sustainability and environmental sciences background with experience working on a wide range of projects across the region.

Nivine’s expertise lies in environmental impact assessment and waste management design studies and she currently manages a multidisciplinary team of ecologists, environmental engineers, certified environmental auditors, GIS planners and environmental modelling experts. Nivine has also worked on a number of strategic consulting and government advisory projects through her work with the United Nations Development Program.

Nivine is also a published author in scholarly journals on topics relating to climate change, oil spills, sustainability and flood risk assessments.

Reference List 

Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) (2016). “UAE Submits its Ratification of the Paris Agreement during the United Nations General Assembly”. [Accessed November 2016]. 

Ministry of Energy (MoE, 2006). “Initial National Communication to the United Nationa Framework Convention on Climate Change”. [Accessed October, 2016]. 

Ministry of Energy. (2015). The UAE State of Energy Report. [Accessed: January 2016]. 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, 2016). “NASA, NOAA Analyses Reveal Record – Shattering Global Warm Temperatures in 2015”. [Accessed November 6, 2016]. 

Odhiambo, G.O (2012). “Energy Consumption and Carbon Emission in the UAE’. Department of Geography and Urban Planning, Al Ain, UAE. 

United Stated Environment Protection Agency (USEPA, 2016). “Climate Change: Basic Information”. [Accessed November 6, 2016]. 

UNFCCC Conference of the Parties. (2015). Adoption of the Paris Agreement. Proposal by the President. [Accessed: January 2016].