The environmental challenges that our planet is facing are increasing year after year. Earth is entering a new phase of danger, where the negative impacts of climate change are becoming more deadly than the many diseases that humankind has experienced throughout the ages.
Millions of lives will be threatened if temperatures continue to rise, in addition to the serious risks posed by emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Since time immemorial, people have worked together to manage epidemics through developments in the field of medicine and preventive measures that have enabled them to combat the spread of diseases. Meanwhile, the one challenge that jeopardises the continuity of all life forms on the planet — climate change — remains unaddressed.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the virus has claimed about 830,000 lives, and although the number of people infected is close to 25 million, recoveries have exceeded 17 million. In contrast, air pollution — a key contributor to climate change — is responsible for an estimated 7 million deaths annually, and is expected to negatively affect the livelihoods of 220 million people by 2020-end. Climate-related natural disasters resulted in 204 million deaths in 2016, and the economic losses they caused reached $335 billion (Dh1.2 trillion) in 2017.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown the whole world that failure to recognise the problem early on is enough for a crisis to turn into a disaster, and lack of proper management only escalates the situation. The same applies to climate change, but the difference is that Covid-19 represents one crisis, while climate change has many consequences, each of which constitutes a crisis of its own that threatens millions of lives.
Food security at risk
Climate change is a major reason for increased desertification and droughts that reduce the productivity of agricultural crops and livestock, which will affect the livelihoods of 220 million people around the world by 2050, according to Climate Change and Land, a special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is also expected that the prices of grains, which are among the most important elements of the human food chain, will rise by nearly seven per cent by 2050, jeopardising the food security and sustainability of hundreds of millions of people.
Furthermore, the World Health Organisation (WHO) believes that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will lead to the death of an additional 250,000 people annually due to heat stress, malnutrition, malaria, and diarrhoea. A study published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change predicts that by 2100, 75 per cent of people around the world will be exposed to deadly heatwaves.
Although the impacts of climate change are daunting, we still have the chance to save our planet and ensure the survival of humankind.
The impact of climate change on oceans and marine habitats, especially coral reefs, threatens the livelihoods of nearly 100 million people working in marine tourism and fishing, and this number is projected to hit 600 million by 2100.
Climate change also contributed to more than 60 per cent of new displacements in 2019. Due to droughts, hurricanes, and landslides, 17.2 million people around the world were forced to abandon their homes, and this year, the number is on the rise.
Unlike with epidemics, we cannot wait for the invention of a vaccine to put a stop to climate change once and for all. Instead, a successful intervention requires a long-term strategy of organised, concerted, and rapid global action that incorporates a two-pronged approach — mitigating the risks and adapting to the impacts of climate change. Any action plans must take into account the natural environment of each region, and focus on transforming challenges into opportunities for growth.
UAE a role model
Over the past five decades, our country has emerged as a role model in environmental action. In 1972, about six months after the formation of the UAE, a delegation from the new country attended the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, the world’s first environmental mega-event. And 1975 saw the birth of the UAE Supreme Committee on Environment that drafted the country’s first laws and regulations aimed at protecting the environment and preserving its natural resources.
The UAE has gradually stepped up its efforts to tackle climate change through its active participation in globate climate dialogue, culminating in its signing of the Paris Agreement as the first country in the region.
On the home front, the UAE has initiated a transition towards a green economy that supports sustainable growth, and adopted the UAE Energy Strategy 2050, which seeks to increase the share of clean energy in the national energy mix to 50 per cent.
To achieve this ambitious target, we have implemented several renewable energy projects with a total production capacity of 1,800MW, with an additional 6,500MW either under development or planned until 2030. The UAE has also become the first country in the Arab world to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes with the launch of the first reactor of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant that will ultimately provide up to 25 per cent of the country’s electricity needs.
On the global level, the UAE is driving the deployment of renewables solutions through direct financing from Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) and investments from Masdar. To date, we have contributed to renewable energy projects across 70 countries with a total value of around $16.8 billion.
To boost the country’s climate resilience, we devised the National Climate Change Plan of the UAE 2017-2050. Within the framework of the plan, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) developed the National Climate Change Adaptation Programme that aims to assess the impacts of climate change on our key sectors — energy, health, infrastructure, and the environment. It identifies the risks that demand urgent action, and provides feasible solutions. The Ministry is also currently finalising the region’s first climate change law.
As part of its integrated climate action endeavours, the UAE is exploring the principles of circular economy and promoting environment-friendly transportation options, including hybrid and electric cars. Moreover, the country has launched green finance initiatives, such as the Dubai Declaration on Sustainable Finance, the Dubai Green Fund with a value of Dh100 billion, the Green Sukuk and Working Party (GSWP), and the Abu Dhabi Sustainable Finance Declaration. In addition, it has formed the Dubai Sustainable Finance Working Group with the participation of financial regulators and financial markets in the UAE, which seeks to create a conducive ecosystem for sustainable finance.
By 2020-end, signatories to the Paris Agreement, including the UAE, are expected to update their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) — pledges to reduce their carbon emissions — that play a crucial role in fighting climate change worldwide. This presents an opportunity for countries to increase their climate ambitions, commit to decisive action with tangible benefits, strengthen international cooperation, and fast-track the implementation of climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.
Developed economies must also establish a global investment system to support the transition towards a green economy that balances economic prosperity with environmental protection to build a climate-safe future for the next generations.
Although the impacts of climate change are daunting, we still have the chance to save our planet and ensure the survival of humankind, but only if we face this grave challenge head on, and if we do it right now.
— Dr Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi is the UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment.