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UAE roadmap for Cop28: high energy, low impact

There are constraints imposed by life in a maritime desert, however

Phasing out fossil fuels 'must go hand-in-hand with a rapid phase-up of zero carbon alternatives', Sultan Al Jaber told the UN in New York Reuters/Adnan Abidi
Phasing out fossil fuels 'must go hand-in-hand with a rapid phase-up of zero carbon alternatives', Sultan Al Jaber told the UN in New York

In meetings with European climate and energy ministers this week, Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Cop28 president, set out the broad outlines of the “roadmap” he will be following for the summit in the UAE this year.

There will be more commitments on renewable energy, cuts in greenhouse gases, and big investments in clean hydrogen.

The Emirates’ climate change minister Mariam Almheiri also pledged to take “aggressive” measures to change the course of climate history in line with the Paris Agreement, which seeks to keep rises in temperature to 1.5 degrees centigrade, especially with regard to the UAE’s own CO2 emissions.

To be sure, the UAE – and other hydrocarbon producers in the Gulf – have high carbon footprints based on per capita rankings, though low in absolute terms compared with the big population polluters like China, the USA and India.

Each country privy to the UN-sponsored deal sets its emissions targets via “nationally determined contributions”.

The aim for the UAE is to set these as high as possible, taking the maximum amount of CO2 out of the air.

But there are constraints imposed by life in a maritime desert. Transport, air-conditioning and all-round economic life demand high levels of energy consumption.

It is difficult to see what further aggressive measures the UAE can take, while maintaining the basic requirements for everyday life in the country.

This is the point that environmentalists miss. Maybe some recycling, greater use of electric vehicles and other energy efficiency measures will make a big difference in the still-temperate climate of northern Europe.

In the Arabian desert, they are at best marginal. Do climate activists really expect the UAE to ban cars and air conditioners?

The UAE climate policymakers have a long list of achievements in answering the demands of the global environmental lobby.

Masdar, founded in 2006, has been at the forefront of renewables technologies for the best part of 20 years.

Masdar’s chief financial officer said in May that it had accumulated $30 billion in green energy projects with a projected total capacity of more than 20 gigawatts in 40 countries around the world.

This is no mean achievement. The UAE has also signed Pace, its Partnership for Accelerating Clean Energy, with the US. The ambitions are large but so too is the funding.

The UAE has been an early – and responsible – champion of nuclear energy in the Middle East.

Green activists actively sought to exaggerate the potential harm of nuclear energy and suppress its environmental benefits for decades.

Even the UAE price of gasoline, at $0.79 a litre, is close to the world average.  

The UAE is a country in which even an arch-environmental activist can feel at home.