Climate change is the defining issue of our era and requires a proportional multilateral response. It is an opportunity to strengthen the global economy so that it is resilient to future shocks and to heal the planet so that coming generations can thrive.
More than 15 years ago, the UAE decided to place climate action at the center of its foreign policy and economic strategy based on the belief that investment in decarbonization will drive economic growth, job creation, and more stable societies. The UAE set the region’s first renewable energy and biodiversity conservation targets, brought the cost of solar below that of all other power sources, built one of the world’s first large-scale carbon capture facilities, and has provided more than USD one billion of aid for renewable energy power plants in over 50 countries – with the UAE-Caribbean Renewable Energy Fund currently under implementation following the UAE-Pacific Partnership Fund. Most recently, the UAE set the region’s first absolute emissions reduction target of 23.5% by 2030, as a stepping stone towards a long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategy.
These investments have paid off rapidly, offering new jobs and reduced costs for industry, businesses, and consumers, alongside carbon and health savings.
As the urgency of climate action increases each year, the UAE is committed to working with all countries to capitalize on the compelling business case for greater climate ambition. The UAE also believes that a proactive approach to the security impacts of climate change will save both lives and money.
“Climate change is the most prominent battle for mankind over the coming decades, to preserve a healthy planet for generations to come.”H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed Al Maktoum
Also in 2020, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) — the UAE’s largest oil and gas producer — announced a target to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 25% by 2030.
Leaders Summit on Climate
On April 22-23, the UAE participated in the Leaders Summit on Climate at the invitation of US President Joe Biden.
At the Summit, the UAE and the US – with support from Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Israel, Singapore, the UK COP Presidency, and Uruguay – announced plans to launch the Agricultural Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate). The goal of the initiative is to significantly increase public spending on agricultural and food systems research and development and innovation within 5 years, helping countries to adapt to climate change while reducing emissions and supporting economic growth. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said, “We must unite our efforts to safeguard the planet for future generations or risk paying heavier costs in the future.”
“Climate change is not a temporary concern but a global challenge that is here to stay.”H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed Al Maktoum
Ahead of the Summit, the UAE hosted a Regional Climate Dialogue on April 4 in Abu Dhabi, with participation from US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma, along with ministers and high-level climate representatives from the MENA region. The ministerial meeting focused on the many forms of climate action that are immediately economically attractive, including renewable energy, climate-smart agriculture, carbon capture and storage, and biodiversity conservation, as well as mid-term goals like using hydrogen as a zero-carbon fuel. Following the Dialogue, the leaders in attendance issued the first joint statement of climate ambition from the region, reiterating their commitment to “reducing emissions by 2030 and beyond, working collectively to help the region adapt to the serious impacts of climate change, collaborating on mobilizing investment in a new energy economy, and pursuing our respective efforts in mobilizing climate finance.”
The UAE is the host of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the global platform for multilateral cooperation on renewable energy and the first major multilateral institution in the Middle East, with 183 member countries plus the European Union. The UAE is also the largest voluntary financial contributor to IRENA, enabling programs on finance, technology, data, and policy around the globe.
In addition to IRENA, the UAE has a long history of supporting the United Nations in its climate change advocacy and services for Member States. The UAE hosted both the preparatory meetings for the climate summits convened by then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2014 and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in 2019, with a strong focus on universal participation, private sector engagement, and human health. The 2019 preparatory meeting also set new precedents for youth participation. Most recently, in January 2021, the UAE hosted the joint ministerial meeting of the UN Food Systems Summit and the High-Level Dialogue on Energy, generating deliverables for both summits with simultaneous climate, food, and energy benefits.
The UAE believes that climate action offers opportunities for the international community to innovate and collaborate for a better collective future, while generating immediate economic benefits. Across 70 countries, the UAE has accordingly invested in commercial renewable energy ventures that total USD 16.8 billion, ranging from the US to Uzbekistan, from Morocco to Indonesia.
At the same time, the UAE’s own experience is that upfront public finance can kickstart local renewable energy industries and unlock many multiples of private finance. The UAE has accordingly provided more than USD one billion of grants and low-interest loans to over 50 partner countries around the globe for renewable energy power projects, especially small island developing states and least developed countries. These countries typically face crippling power costs, but renewable energy offers the first opportunity to reduce these costs and thereby support jobs, industry, tourism, and energy access.
The UAE’s largest source of renewable energy support is the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, and notably its USD 350 million facility with IRENA, which has backed 32 projects around the world.
The UAE also runs two regional funds dedicated exclusively to renewable energy projects in island nations. Launched in 2013, the USD 50 million grant to the UAE-Pacific Partnership Fund built solar and wind projects in 11 Pacific island countries. In 2017, the UAE launched the USD 50 million UAE-Caribbean Renewable Energy Fund, with three projects completed and 13 under construction or in development. One of the largest projects is the rebuilding and climate-proofing of Barbuda’s power system, undertaken in partnership with the government of Antigua & Barbuda, the CARICOM Development Fund, New Zealand, and the Rocky Mountain Institute.
Renewable Energy and Sustainability Initiatives
One of the best-known symbols of the UAE’s climate ambition is the revolutionary Masdar City, an ultra-low-carbon urban development in Abu Dhabi applying cutting-edge solutions in energy and water efficiency, mobility, and waste reduction to a real city. Masdar City is also home to the International Renewable Energy Agency headquarters.
Masdar’s investments and policy framework for solar have enabled the UAE to achieve solar power at 1.35 cents per kilowatt hour – a world-record low and the cheapest daytime power source versus all other options in the Middle East. The UAE is home to three of the world’s largest and lowest-cost solar plants, including the world’s largest, Noor Abu Dhabi, and is rapidly building more.
The UAE is also the first country in the Middle East to operate a zero-carbon, peaceful nuclear power plant. The plant, developed in close partnership with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international partners, eliminates almost a quarter of the power sector’s greenhouse gas footprint. The Barakah Nuclear Plant became commercially operational in March 2021.
Climate and Security
“Member States, donors, and the UN system need to explicitly target insecurity through climate action.”
As a member-elect of the UN Security Council for 2022-2023, the UAE believes that climate change and security are interlinked, and that early action to address this nexus will reduce the likelihood of conflicts, as well as the ultimate costs to the UN and Member States.
Climate change threatens displacement as well as food and water insecurity and the loss of shelter and livelihoods driven by drought and extreme weather. Disturbances in these precarious conditions can create an environment of discrimination and extremism. For example, Boko Haram has heavily recruited among those who have lost their livelihoods due to the drastic shrinking of Lake Chad.
The UAE has accordingly proposed increased and standardized reporting to the Security Council on climate-related risks, including by drawing on the UN’s extensive in-country resources like UNEP, UNDP, and others. The UAE has called for greater analysis of future climate-related risks and the consideration of aspects of “anticipatory action” – the humanitarian model which releases resources in advance of credibly forecasted climate disasters. The gender-sensitization of climate analysis will also be essential to ensure that UN responses benefit society more.
“Especially in this era of COVID-19 and climate change, it is critical that economic crisis-response measures account for the unique situation of women in conflict and post-conflict zones, where the cost of women and girls being excluded from decision-making processes is highest.”H.E. Lana Nusseibeh
The UAE has also launched a workstream with Norway, the Stimson Center, and Energy Peace Partners to help the UN achieve its goal of 80% renewable energy by 2030, which hinges on peacekeeping missions. Renewable energy promises to reduce operating costs, reduce supply-line vulnerabilities, and, most importantly, leave a positive infrastructure legacy for host communities.
At the launch event, POWERING PEACE: Toward a Renewable Energy Future for UN Peace Operations event, Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh said, “When paired with batteries or hybrid systems, renewables are also less vulnerable to supply disruptions than solely diesel systems. If they serve the communities around peacekeepers, they also notably reduce the amount of time and risk that women and children endure in gathering firewood and water.”
As a member of the Group of Friends on Climate and Security, the UAE is a partner in multilateral efforts to address these intertwined threats in both the Security Council and the General Assembly.
Building resilience for all is a tenet of the UAE’s upcoming term on the Security Council in 2022-2023. When we take our seat on the Security Council, the UAE will continue to champion multilateral efforts to address climate change and lead by example in accelerating renewable energy adoption. The UAE has also committed to helping other nations accelerate their transitions to climate-resilient economies and renewable energy. Climate change is an all-encompassing global challenge, but also an unprecedented driver for innovation and growth, and the Security Council can and must play its part.