Green Expectations: The UAE’s path towards a sustainable future
Sustainability is particularly relevant to the United Arab Emirates, a country that has experienced rapid economic growth and modernisation in recent decades. The UAE has become one of the world’s leading oil-producing countries, and its economy has diversified into various sectors, such as tourism, finance, and real estate.
This growth, however, has also led to significant environmental challenges such as carbon emissions and water scarcity. The UAE’s efforts to promote sustainability are vital not only for its future development but also for the world and its efforts to address climate change.
The UAE has set ambitious targets to reduce its carbon footprint, increase renewable energy production, and improve water efficiency. For example, the government aims to generate 50% of its energy from clean sources by 2050, and reduce water consumption by 21% by 2030. The country’s ambitions also include raising awareness of climate change issues through initiatives such as declaring 2023 the Year of Sustainability.
As part of the marketing campaign, the government has launched “green” education programs and plans to hold environmental-themed events and exhibitions. They will also encourage partnerships between private and public organisations to promote sustainable practices and encourage innovation in green technology with subsidies and awards.
The 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP28, represents the UAE’s biggest opportunity to showcase its sustainable development achievements and present its plan for global energy transition and decarbonisation.
The event, which will be held November 20 until December 12th at Expo City in Dubai, will bring together experts on climate change and representatives of world governments to discuss strategies for achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, the climate treaty adopted by 196 countries at COP21 in 2015 and the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including Sustainable Cities and Communities, Climate Action, and Responsible Consumption and Production.
Passing the torch
UAE involves youth, the generation most affected by climate change.
As host, the UAE will emphasise its efforts to transform its economy into one that is driven by clean and renewable energy sources along with technological advancements and climate-friendly solutions. One of the key initiatives in this regard is the UAE’s Smart City Strategy.
Launched in 2014, the policy aims to create innovative cities by leveraging technology and data to improve efficiency, enhance quality of life, and reduce resource consumption.
The development of Masdar City, a zero-carbon city in Abu Dhabi, and the installation of solar panels on public buildings exemplify what the program hopes to achieve. The country has also invested in smart transportation systems, including electric vehicles and intelligent transportation systems, to reduce carbon emissions.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit Livability Index, Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi are among the most liveable cities in the Middle East and Africa, with Abu Dhabi being ranked as the most liveable city in the region for the second year in a row. Sustainability plays a significant role in these rankings, which also consider infrastructure and amenities, transportation systems, health care facilities, and education systems.
Engaging and empowering young people is another plank in the UAE’s platform for achieving long-term sustainability goals. By involving the youth in decision-making, education, and providing support for their initiatives, the UAE seeks to create a generation that is knowledgeable, motivated, and actively involved in shaping a sustainable future. The UAE recognises the importance of engaging young people in such initiatives.
The government has actively encouraged youth participation in environmental and sustainable development programs. Various youth-led organisations, such as the Emirates Youth Council and the Emirates Youth Climate Strategy, have been established to involve young people in decision-making processes related to sustainability.
Government’s focus on sustainability
The government’s focus on sustainability also extends to the aviation industry. Emirates Airlines announced a commitment of $200 million to be dispersed over three years to fund research and development projects aimed at reducing the impact of fossil fuels in commercial aviation. The airline claims that theirs is the largest commitment made by any airline towards sustainability.
The disbursements will be overseen by the Emirates’ Environmental Sustainability Executive Steering Group and supported by technical experts. Emirates intends to invest the money specifically in advanced fuel and energy solutions. Between 2019 and 2022, Etihad Airways reduced their carbon dioxide emissions per revenue tonne kilometre by 26%, according to the company’s annual sustainability report. The airline achieved this by aligning with industry road maps, collaborating with UAE industrial ecosystems, and developing a strategic road map for targets.
The concept of sustainability refers to the ability of current generations to meet their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. Sustainability is about finding a balance between economic, social and environmental concerns, and because what happens to the climate in one part of the world affects other regions it requires global cooperation and youth empowerment.
The UAE has made significant strides in prioritising sustainability and promoting renewable energy. With ambitious targets, collaborative efforts, and hosting major conferences, the UAE is leading by example and inspiring a greener future for generations to come.
Dr Kristian Alexander is a Senior Fellow and the Director of the International Security & Terrorism Program at TRENDS Research & Advisory, Dubai, UAE