Over the past few years, the UAE has adopted several initiatives and policies to combat climate change through containing its increasingly adverse effects at the regional and global level. The UAE’s efforts to achieve carbon neutrality and promote investment in green resources demonstrate that climate change has become a top priority for the country. It aims to keep up with global climate action to mitigate the economic and social impacts of climate change. Moreover, pursuing further development in this field is likely enhance the UAE’s regional and global standing.
There are several factors driving the UAE’s increased focus on climate change, which can be summarized as follows:
1. Bolstering the UAE’s global standing: The UAE has attached particular importance to climate action as part of efforts to maintain its prominent standing at the regional and global level. This is especially important in light of shifting dynamics in foreign policy and international relations. Peter van Ham has argued that countries’ attempts to improve their global image signal a "move from the modern world of geopolitics and power to the postmodern world of images and influence." In this regard, the UAE has recently sought to consolidate its positive image as a pioneer in several fields capable of overcoming various challenges.
The UAE’s approach to foreign policy \ructural sectors, which will create a dire situation for global food security. Global supply chains will not be immune to these impacts, and global economies will be dealt a severe blow.
2. Keeping up with global efforts: The international community first drew attention to climate change during the late 1970s with the first World Climate Conference in 1979, which was organized by a US-led committee. As climate change has intensified in recent years, countries and international organizations have started to coordinate efforts through the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC), a representative body for global climate action. The UAE has played a leading role in pushing for global efforts to effectively address climate change and mitigate its negative impacts. As a result, the UAE was selected to host the UNFCCC’s 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) in 2023.
3. Elevated importance of non-traditional threats in strategy development: The UAE’s focus on climate change must be understood within the context of ongoing changes in many countries’ security strategies, which have attached increasing importance to non-traditional threats beyond the military sphere. As Richard Ullman put it, it is necessary to expand the concept of national security and instead view national security threats as an "an action or sequence of events that (1) threatens drastically and over a relatively brief span of time to degrade the quality of life for the inhabitants of a state, or (2) threatens significantly to narrow the range of policy choices available to the government of a state or to private, nongovernmental entities (persons, groups, corporations) within the state."
A Comprehensive Approach
The UAE has adopted a comprehensive approach to addressing climate change that aims to achieve environmental sustainability. This approach has been developed within an integrated legislative and regulatory framework in coordination with the international community, and can be summarized as follows:
1. Commitment to clean energy: One of the key pillars of the UAE’s approach to dealing with climate change are its efforts to utilize clean energy instead of fossil fuels. This strategy was adopted early on with the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) in 2006. Three years later, Abu Dhabi became home to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). In 2017, the UAE launched its first energy strategy, the UAE Energy Strategy 2050, to increase the percentage of renewable energy in the country’s energy mix.
Official UAE figures indicate that the country aims to pursue renewable, clean, and nuclear energy sources within its energy mix in order strike a balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability. It plans to invest up to AED 600 billion by 2050 to ensure the energy demand is met. The UAE Energy Strategy 2050 also aims to increase the efficiency of individual and corporate consumption by 40 percent and to increase the share of clean energy to 50 percent of total power capacity, including 44 percent from renewable energy sources and 6 percent from nuclear energy. This would save AED 700 billion by 2050 and reduce CO2 emissions by 70 percent over the next 30 years.
2. Developing peaceful nuclear power: After hosting the Regional Climate Dialogue in April 2021, which included ten key MENA economies as well as US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry, the UAE announced the launch of the first phase of the Barakah nuclear power plant. Barakah is the Arab world’s first peaceful nuclear power plant. In March 2022, the UAE announced the launch of the second phase of Barakah. These steps will advance the UAE’s efforts to increase the clean energy share in its domestic energy mix, as per the goals of UAE Energy Strategy 2050 to protect the environment and pursue further climate action. This strategy will also support the UAE’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) as part of the Paris Agreement.
3. Fostering a legislative and educational environment conducive to climate action: The UAE has sought to enhance its legislative infrastructure as well as its research and knowledge capacities to fight climate change. The UAE Climate Change Research Network (CCRN) is a product of these efforts. It provides an integrated research system that helps identify the regional repercussions of climate change and forecast future developments. This is expected to enhance the UAE’s capacity to address climate change from a scientific standpoint.
In March 2021, Dr. Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, UAE minister of climate change and the environment, announced that the UAE was about to draft its first climate change bill, which will be the first law on climate change in the region. The law is expected to promote sustainable development and the green economy, as well as innovation, research, and development for climate action. The law will bolster the UAE’s climate action efforts and enhance its standing in global competitiveness indexes.
4. Coordinating efforts with the international and regional community: The UAE has tirelessly supported international capacity-building to combat climate change. It was one of the first countries in the region to announce ambitious plans to achieve carbon neutrality through the strategic initiative UAE Net Zero by 2050. The UAE is also a key partner for the international community in fighting climate change in its capacity as a party to all relevant international treaties. This built international trust, which culminated in the UAE being chosen to host COP 28 in 2023.
The UAE has supported global efforts to promote the use of clean energy. The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development witnessed significant growth by the end of 2020, with a total of AED 1.3 billion in funding allocated to 90 projects benefiting more than 65 countries in different regions.
In conclusion, fighting climate change is one of the key pillars of the UAE’s policy agenda. This will cement the country’s high standing in all development indexes, given that climate change is a key determinant of sustainable development and future economic growth. Climate initiatives are expected to gain more momentum in the coming period given the acute impacts of climate changes that are currently being felt in several countries, especially in the West.