The UAE’s successful bid to host the 28th Conference of the Parties — COP28 — in 2023 is inspiring hope and confidence that the Government’s pledges on the environment will lead to real and lasting change.
The announcement came last week during the COP26 summit in Glasgow, with the UAE’s bid being endorsed by The Asia Pacific Group of nations and receiving real support due to a number of pledges the UAE has made. The main one is the launch of its Net Zero by 2050 Strategy: an ambitious national drive to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The UAE pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the year 2030 by 23.5 percent, amounting in an emission reduction of about 70 million tonnes. The country has also pledged to invest Dh600 billion (US$163 billion) in clean and renewable energy sources by 2050.
“We congratulate the UAE for winning the hosting of the most important global climate conference COP28 in 2023. A deserved choice for our country,” tweeted His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai. “We will put all our capabilities to make the conference a success. The UAE will remain committed to global climate action to protect the planet.”
Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, the UAE’s minister of climate change and environment, added: “We are ready to deliver a productive COP that builds a strong economic case for climate action, and mobilizes countries to increase the scale and pace of their efforts to address climate change.”
COP28 will follow the 2022 summit being held in Egypt — making it the second Middle East country in a row to host the talks, and only the third time the climate change meeting will be hosted by a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, with former OPEC member Qatar hosting in 2012 and Indonesia in 2007.
“COP28 is a particularly important milestone for the UAE, as not a lot of oil and gas exporting countries have held the annual UN climate conference,’ says Mariska Nell, a UAE-based environmentalist and founder and host of the Mama Earth Talk Podcast. “The UAE is still a young country and one that has already achieved a lot — and is still striving to do more. By having the COP28 in the UAE, it will not only create more awareness for the residents of the UAE, but also shine a light on existing and future projects that will help the UAE achieve net-zero.”
Mariska, who also produces trash-based artwork and fashion, references initiatives including Masdar City, which is designed to be a net-zero development, and the Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the world’s largest solar power plant, when she talks about the UAE’s progress.
“Renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency, innovation in agriculture to grow more food locally as well as restoring the mangrove forests are a few of the areas the UAE has excelled in,” she says.
“There were a few pledges to come out of COP26 that are important for the UAE, but one that really stands out for me is the increase from 30 million to 100 million mangroves trees that the UAE pledged to plant before 2030. This will help protect our mangrove forests that are also capturing carbon and with the additional mangroves by 2030 the UAE will sequester nearly 115,000 tons of CO2 per year.”
And what will it mean for non-government organizations who are fighting the climate crisis? Natalie Hore is founder of Azraq, a marine conservation group focused on protecting and conserving marine environments in the United Arab Emirates.
“The UAE has some wonderful environmental policies and processes, as well as programs in the country such as Azraq, and having COP28 here will give the opportunity to showcase these while also providing an opportunity for businesses to improve progress towards their 2050 net-zero ambitions,” she explains. “The United Arab Emirates is known globally as a major oil and gas exportation country with a hot arid climate, and therefore the fact that COP28 will be held in the UAE allows for business leaders to either show off or rethink their sustainability platforms.”
The pressure and need for businesses in the UAE to step up is a sentiment echoed by other activists and experts in the country. So much so, this could actually be the legacy of the COP28 announcement — and it might happen even before the summit takes place.
“The focus is going to shift from setting targets to delivering results,” ssays Tom De Waele, managing partner at management consulting firm Bain & Company Middle East. “Until now, executives may have been rewarded just for stating goals; from here on, they will need to show real reductions. The transition away from carbon and toward net-zero emissions is likely to be a top priority for many executives for the rest of their careers. For most companies in the UAE, the window for consideration has closed. It’s time to act and deliver meaningful carbon reductions.”
In a paper he wrote with Torsten Lichtenau, a partner at Bain & Company London, Tom points out one of the possible sticking points that businesses could face: avoiding “the hourglass effect”.
“In many companies, including those in the UAE, top management and new employees are enthusiastic about sustainability, while middle management is left to solve the revenue, cost, and safety implications,” he said. “Many have little or no experience managing carbon reduction, though support can be offered by educating everyone about carbon reduction in their industry and clarifying the rules for trade-offs.”
Education is key all-round in achieving the green goals set on either side of COP28. Plastic Free UAE helps promote sustainable companies and initiatives through social media, as well as spread information and facilitate education about sustainable solutions and eco-friendly options in the UAE.
“The key to dealing with any crisis is education, and the UAE hosting the COP28 would mean that more and more businesses, organizations and citizens get educated about the growing climate crisis, encouraging them to the first step in making a change,” explains Reem Ali, program manager. “As their social media agency and advocates of sustainability, it becomes really important for us to ensure we communicate their measures and goals in a manner that reaches out to community members in a way where that encourages them to stop, think and act. What we need most at this point is more people to join in as agents of change to help implement, finance and adapt to the solutions.”
And does he think more people will become engaged?
“COP26 is going to play a very important role in highlighting how little time we have to act and the urgency at which change needs to take place,” says Ali. “Hopefully, by 2023, we can have more community members involved in fighting the climate crisis and open more doors for people to achieve a sustainable future.”
Natalie at Azraq is also hopeful about COP28.
“If there is one thing I am certain of, it’s that the leadership of this country will do its citizens and residents proud when the time comes to hosting COP28,” she says. “With the focus already on nuclear and solar power as well as cuts to energy subsidies and carbon capture and storage expansion, I am extremely positive that the United Arab Emirates will have a great deal to discuss regarding the impacts they have made and or are making to reduce the climate crisis the world is facing.”
How to do your bit…
Mariska Nell of the Mama Earth Talk Podcast shares the initiatives and organizations that are making a difference in the UAE:
Azraq – Think mangrove planting, creating awareness for our oceans through education
Terraloop – Fighting food waste by turning it into a resource
The Concept – Redesigning the way we look at the aviation industry by making it more sustainable
Sustainable City – Designed to be a net zero development
Surge – raising awareness on the importance of clean water and sanitation, as well as our water footprints. They’re impacting many by providing them with clean water and sanitation.
Shop Retold – Raising awareness of the clothing industry and helping pre-owned clothing find a second life
Liquid of Life – Raising awareness of water
My Farm Dubai – Raising awareness of the food supply, growing food locally and they have also developed a seed bank with over 800 varieties of the local community
Karl Feilder – Providing neutral fuels that allow more companies to reach net zero targets.
Kyle Weber – EV Lab – Educating about electric vehicles and working on adding more charging stations around the UAE
Save Our World – Educating the youth about important climate changing topics to help out our environment.
Qissa’Go – Educating about the importance of reversing climate change, that climate refugees are increasing, and what that means to their heritage — all through their theatre and literature.
Devinder Bains is journalist of 20 years, working as a writer and editor on some of the biggest national magazines, newspapers and online publications in the UK and the Middle East. She specialises in women’s empowerment, fashion, race, culture and travel, and as a qualified personal trainer and nutrition coach, she is an expert in health and fitness. She splits her time between freelance writing and running Fit Squad DXB – Dubai’s largest personal training and wellness company.