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Slump in plastic bag usage as Dubai tackles carbon footprint

The reduction of plastic shopping bags is a small step towards reducing the UAE’s vast carbon footprint, but much more needs to be done across sectors
  • UAE has world’s fourth highest per capita CO2 emissions
  • Emissions set to grow by up to 35% in years to 2030 
  • UAE hasn’t detailed how it will meet its 2050 net zero target

Plastic bag use has plummeted at UAE retail outlets operated by Majid Al Futtaim following the emirate’s introduction of a mandatory AED25 ($6.81) bag charge.

In a small, but notable step towards reducing the UAE’s vast carbon footprint, Majid Al Futtaim said plastic bag use fell 85 percent in the three months since charges began on July 1, despite a 10 percent increase in customer visits to stores. 

Plastics are made from fossil fuels and are responsible for 3.4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the OECD, which forecasts plastics-based emissions will more than double by 2060.

Plastic waste also pollutes marine and land environments and endangers many animal species. 

Last year ahead of Cop26 in Glasgow, the UAE pledged to become net zero in terms of carbon emissions by 2050.

Achieving that goal will require huge changes to the economy and society, with the UAE generating the fourth-highest carbon emissions per capita worldwide, according to the World Bank.

Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain are ranked first to third, while Saudi Arabia is eighth and Oman ninth. 

The UAE’s climate targets and policies are “highly insufficient”, according to non-profit Climate Action Tracker (CAT), which warns the country’s policies are inconsistent with the Paris Agreement’s pledge to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C. 

“The UAE is also planning for a significant increase in fossil fuel production and consumption,” CAT wrote in a report that does not rate the viability of the UAE’s net zero pledge due to incomplete information on how the country intends to realise this goal. 

The UAE this year published a new Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which is a climate action plan to cut emissions.

This vows to cut its annual emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent – which includes CO2, methane and nitrous oxide – by 93.2 million tonnes to 208 million metric tons by 2030.

Electricity generation will provide 66.4 percent of these reductions, industry 16.6 percent, transport 9.7 percent, waste 2.1 percent and carbon capture, utilisation, and storage 5.3 percent. 

Yet CAT is sceptical of these targets. 

“The UAE will not be able to meet its targets with current policies,” the non-profit wrote. 

“It would need to implement additional policies and significantly reduce its 2030 emissions to reach its NDC target. We estimate that the UAE’s 2030 emissions are set to increase by 30 to 35 percent above 2010 levels.”

This is likely to be at odds both with what Emirates residents believe, and the climate action they would like to see.

A November survey of UAE residents by consultants Kearney found that 70 percent of respondents believe urgent action should be taken in the next five years to limit the impact of climate change. 

But half of respondents said they thought the UAE was on track to meet its 2050 net zero pledge.