Known for its skyscrapers, luxury hotels, shopping malls and oil, some people might assume that the UAE is responsible for producing high carbon emissions.
However, Mohamed Ahmed Ba Sahel, Section Head of Policy and Regulations Evaluation at The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), in an interview with Khaleej Times, explains that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“The UAE emits less than 0.5 per cent of global carbon emissions with Abu Dhabi’s share of 0.29%. This is a tiny amount when compared to the other countries. However, we were the first country in the region to sign the Paris Agreement and we have translated that commitment into our strategies,” he notes.
By 2030, Abu Dhabi aims to reduce its emissions by 35 per cent from 2016 baseline levels. Following a clear, five-year strategy involving 81 initiatives and collective efforts from multiple stakeholders, its first goal is to reduce emissions by 22 per cent by 2027. Ba Sahel reveals that this roadmap is a natural development of Abu Dhabi climate action that has started over a decade ago and was launched well ahead of COP28.
“Our strategy focuses mainly on two pillars. The first is reducing carbon emissions and the second is ensuring vulnerable sectors – including energy, infrastructure, health and environment – adapt to climate change,” he says.
“Climate risks for the UAE and Abu Dhabi are increasing temperatures, sea level rise, humidity, marine water salinity and acidity, and extreme weather conditions.”
The Emirate of Abu Dhabi is witnessing an increase in air and marine water temperatures as well as higher salinity levels in the seas. Climate change is having a significant impact on marine water quality in the Arabian Gulf, with water in this region becoming increasingly acidic at a faster rate than in most other ocean waters worldwide. The increased salinity, temperature and acidity of the gulf water might render it unusable in the water production process in the future unless there are new and innovative designs for existing water plants.
Climate change is also having a significant impact on Abu Dhabi’s biodiversity. For instance, in 2017, global coral bleaching led to the elimination of approximately 75% of the Gulf’s offshore coral reefs. Marine species were also affected by flooding caused by a storm on the low island of Bu Tinah, which is one of the main islands’ shores for turtle nesting in the Emirate. This resulted in the loss of all eight incubators for the endangered hawksbill sea turtles on the island in 2019 and 2021. What this means for the bigger picture is that species could possibly become extinct and Abu Dhabi witness an increased population of harmful non-native species.
“Sea levels are rising, intense rainfall is becoming more frequent, and there are notable changes in weather patterns, such as increased humidity with levels sometimes reaching up to 90 per cent on very hot days,” states Ba Sahel.
“Here in Abu Dhabi, most of our infrastructure are on the coast. We expect risks on our coastal and offshore infrastructure leading to an impact on business due to transportation disruption and reduced reliability of transport and building infrastructure. For that, we have started integrating clear initiatives regarding resilience and adaptation of all vulnerable sectors in the emirate. When it comes to reducing Abu Dhabi’s CO2 emissions, increasing renewable energy production plays a key part.
“Different emitting sectors are going to contribute differently to achieve the strategy reduction target but the main contribution will be coming from power production through low carbon clean energy sources and solar power introduction,” Ba Sahel adds.
“The UAE is now one of the leading countries in the region in terms of clean and low-carbon energy. Other countries look at Abu Dhabi and the UAE as role models.”
Abu Dhabi is equally eager to share its knowledge of climate change and experience implementing impactful environmental policies internationally.
Ba Sahel says: “We are all continually learning. Many players are involved with protecting the environment, so we try to raise awareness whenever possible”
Thanks to the clear direction of the UAE’s leadership, Ba Sahel reports that environmental awareness is on the rise.
He concludes: “Everyone of us can be part of the solution. Before you decide to keep the lights on when you go out, or keep the air conditioning running in the winter, ask yourself, is this protecting our natural resources? We must protect them and preserve the environment. Otherwise, future generations will suffer”.