In July, the UAE unveiled a new climate plan

United Arab Emirates, a major oil and gas producer and host of COP28

AFP/KARIM SAHIB - Emiratos Árabes Unidos
photo_camera AFP/KARIM SAHIB - United Arab Emirates

The host country of the annual UN climate conference (COP28), the United Arab Emirates, relies heavily on hydrocarbons for its prosperity, a similar case to Qatar, which hosted COP18 in 2012. 

This is the UAE's contribution to global warming and its concrete actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What is its carbon footprint?

Although the UAE has only nine million inhabitants, it emitted 237 million tonnes of CO2 in 2021, compared to Spain's 305 million and its 47 million inhabitants, according to official data, excluding methane and other greenhouse gases. 

This is equivalent to 25 tonnes of CO2 per capita, certainly less than Qatar's record (40 tonnes), but considerably more than Saudi Arabia (18 tonnes). 

These emissions do not include the oil and gas exported by the country, but only reflect the CO2 emitted directly by its inhabitants and businesses, indicating an economy and lifestyle still based primarily on the combustion of oil and gas. 

Energy-intensive activities are thriving: gleaming skyscrapers rise out of the desert and air conditioning is ubiquitous in the scorching heat. 

Electricity in the UAE is almost entirely produced by burning gas (82.5% in 2022), which releases CO2. 

Solar power accounts for only 5%, and nuclear, which is booming, 13%, according to the expert consultancy Ember.

PHOTO/BANDAR ALGALOUD - Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, presidente de Emiratos Árabes Unidos
PHOTO/BANDAR ALGALOUD - Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates

What is its climate ambition?

In July, the country presented a new climate plan. The UAE joined the common goal of many countries to triple renewable energy production by 2030. 

The government has just inaugurated its first wind farm and, two weeks before COP28, inaugurated the Al-Dhafra solar plant, one of the largest in the world. 

It has also announced plans to reduce emissions in all sectors, from industry to transport, with a particular focus on electric vehicles. 

However, in July, the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) called the overall strategy "insufficient" and even "highly insufficient". 

CAT analyses national plans and compares them with the trajectory that each country should follow to contribute to the collective effort to limit global warming to 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial era. 

The reason for these criticisms is that the UAE's emissions are estimated to continue to rise until 2030 and gas will maintain a significant position until 2050, while its target of net zero emissions in 2050 remains too vague. 

However, the UAE highlights the anticipated diversification of its economy over decades: the oil and gas industry remains dominant, but now accounts for only around 30% of GDP, compared to 42% for its Saudi neighbour.

Adnoc's role

The UAE is the world's seventh largest oil producer, ahead of Iran and Kuwait, through the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc). 

Adnoc plans to invest $150 billion (2023-2027) to increase its hydrocarbon production capacity. 

In October it announced a new offshore gas project (Hail and Ghasha fields). 

Like renewable energy company Masdar, Adnoc is headed by Sultan al-Jaber, who was appointed by the UAE government to chair COP28, fuelling accusations of double-dealing. 

Jaber argues that its oil is cheaper and has less impact in terms of emissions due to easier extraction than in other regions of the world.

PHOTO/WAM - Sultan al-Jaber
PHOTO/WAM - Sultan al-Jaber

The COP28 president claims that Adnoc is only increasing extraction capacity, not oil production per se, to prepare to meet future demand with an improved type of oil. 

In his view, fossil fuels can only be abandoned when renewable energies can adequately replace them. 

At the same time, the country supports carbon capture and storage (CCS), techniques that are still far from being able to store the billions of tonnes of CO2 needed to maintain climate targets. 

According to the NGO Global Witness, total emissions from Adnoc, including those generated by the combustion of exported hydrocarbons, will continue to rise until 2030, reaching 684 million tonnes of CO2, equivalent to three times the current territorial emissions of the UAE. 

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