On 21st September 2016, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ratified the Paris Agreement and its Intended National Determined Contribution (INDC) became its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). The UAE pledged to pursue “a strategy of economic diversification that will yield mitigation and adaptation co-benefits”. UAE specifies that part of these efforts is increasing the share of renewable and nuclear energy in the total energy mix to 24% by 2021.
Apart from a lack of ambition, the NDC lacks clarity; it does not explain whether the Renewable Energy target refers to total primary energy or electricity generation.
Based on this target, we rate UAE’s NDC “inadequate”. This means it is not consistent with limiting warming to below 2°C, let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit, and if most other countries followed the UAE’s approach, global warming would exceed 3–4°C. Also under current policies, emissions will grow. The deregulation of energy prices is an important element to limit emissions growth, but alone not sufficient to stop emissions from increasing.
The UAE’s NDC does not provide an economy-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions target. Instead, it describes a number of measures targeting all sectors of the economy, without presenting abatement in terms of GHGs. The level indicated as the NDC target in our graph above reflects the only quantifiable element - the target for clean energy by 2021 - slightly more ambitious than current policy projections.
UAE’s greenhouse gas emissions would reach 361 MtCO2e/a excl. LULUCF in 2030, which is approximately a 50% increase above 2010 levels or a 480% increase above 1990 levels. One important policy included here is the deregulation of energy prices, i.e. the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies, which UAE started in August 2015. This phase-out is essential for short-term mitigation of climate change, bringing UAE close to the emission levels resulting from the clean energy target in their NDC. However, implemented policies are not sufficient to stop emissions from increasing further after 2020.
In a recent statement, the UAE announced their Energy Strategy for 2050. We find that the targets for the energy split in the strategy would have no additional impact on emissions even if the strategy were fully implemented. The exact definition of the efficiency target included in the strategy is unclear, so the full potential impact on emissions of the complete strategy cannot be quantified at present.
On the 14th of June 2017, the UAE cabinet adopted the country’s first national climate change plan covering the period of 2017-2050, overseen by the UAE Council on Climate Change and the Environment. Although the plan has not been publicly released it is understood to streamline mitigation and adaption efforts across the country as well as setting mandates reflected in the UAE Vision 2021 and the UAE Green Agenda 2015–2030. It has also been said that the plan sets out a process to set an economy-wide emission reduction target by about 2020 and the development of a national adaptation plan. The CAT current policy projections do not quantify the national climate change plan because, in addition to not having been officially published, it also does not appear to include clearly defined mitigation actions yet.
On 22 Oct 2015, the United Arab Emirates submitted its INDC, pledging it will aim at diversifying its economy through plans and actions that will yield co-benefits in mitigation and adaptation to climate change, including a target of increasing “clean energy” (defined as renewable energy and nuclear energy) from 0.2% in 2014 to 24% of the total energy mix by 2021. The document does not clarify whether the target refers to total primary energy supply or to electricity generation, and official communications on this have been ambiguous. We show both options in our assessment. On 21 Sep 2016, UAE ratified the Paris Agreement, turning their INDC into the NDC.
Beside the clean energy target, measures targeting the energy, buildings and transport sector are listed in the document. None of these targets have numbers in terms of emissions reductions attached to them.
The measures mentioned are the following:
As the list above shows, most of these measures can already be considered implemented policies; therefore we expect limited additional emission reductions. The share of 24% of clean energy leads to emission levels being slightly lower compared to our current policy projections in 2021 (286–315 MtCO2e), at 283 or 308 MtCO2e/a in 2021 which translates into 350% or 390% above 1990 levels.
Press statements say UAE has increased its clean energy target for 2021 from 24% to 27% (Gulf News, 2016). This update is not reflected in the official documents submitted to the UNFCCC, thus we rely on the 24% target. If a 27% target is implemented, emissions would be slightly lower in 2021, at 276 to 305 MtCO2e/a or 340% to 290% above 1990 levels.
Taking into consideration the 24% clean energy target for 2021 and other already implemented policies mentioned in the NDC, we rate UAE’s NDC inadequate. The “inadequate” rating indicates that the UAE’s commitment is not in line with interpretations of a “fair” approach in line with holding warming below 2°C, let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. This means that if most other countries followed the UAE’s approach, global warming would exceed 3–4°C.The reduction target could therefore be strengthened to reflect UAE’s high responsibility (e.g. considering per capita emissions).
To be rated “sufficient” the UAE would have to submit a target of reducing GHG to levels significantly lower than today. It seems unlikely that the other measures listed in the NDC are able to achieve a GHG abatement of this magnitude.
CAT estimates that UAE’s greenhouse gas emissions would reach 361 to 391 MtCO2e excl. LULUCF in 2030, which is approx. a 344% to 390% increase compared to 1990 levels. With currently implemented measures, UAE would get close to achieving the emissions level resulting from the 24% clean energy target in the NDC.
Increasing energy efficiency became a key national strategy to reduce local energy consumption, after the UAE became a net importer of natural gas in 2008. With electricity and desalinated water generation dependent on natural gas, the rapidly growing population tipped the balance, with domestic gas consumption exceeding production that year (Ministry of Energy, 2012). In addition, the traditionally subsidised energy and water prices led to a culture of wasteful energy usage, which would further render the UAE economy increasingly reliant on gas imports in the future.
In light of these developments, green building codes became mandatory in 2011 in Abu Dhabi under the Estidama Program and in 2014 in Dubai. Energy efficiency standards, and labels for air conditioners and other electrical equipment have been introduced in the UAE, and inefficient light bulbs have been banned from import since 2014 (Ministry of Energy, 2015). To decarbonise the power sector and reduce dependence on natural gas, 5.6 GW nuclear power capacity will come online by 2021 and 3 GW of solar power should be installed by 2030 (Masdar Institute/IRENA, 2015). A South Korean consortium has been awarded the contract to build the nuclear power plants and there is already a framework for competitive tendering of solar power plants already exists in the UAE (Masdar Institute/IRENA, 2015).
In August 2015, UAE decided to deregulate energy prices, by phasing out subsidies for gasoline and diesel. The subsidies had become a burden to national budgets and UAE made use of low global energy prices to minimise the immediate impact on consumers (Bloomberg, 2015; U. A. E. Ministry of Energy, 2015). UAE is currently working on the further deregulation of energy prices, extending the scope to electricity and gas (The National, 2016). Our projections, including estimates of the impact based on Merrill, Bassi, Bridle, & Christensen (2015), show that the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies is an important element to decrease emissions in the short term. However in the medium term, UAE will have to implement additional measures to induce a stronger shift to renewable energy and energy efficiency.
In 2017, UAE announced the Energy Strategy for 2050, a plan which aims at diversifying the energy matrix and improving energy efficiency (WAM, 2017). The strategy foresees shares of 44% renewable energy, 38% gas, 12% “clean coal” and 6% nuclear in the electricity mix in 2050.
It is unclear how “clean coal” is defined - this may mean coal power with carbon capture and storage. Further, the statement does not explain the target of improving energy efficiency by 40% further (e.g. how efficiency is defined and what the reference is). Considering only the targets for the electricity mix, we find that the Energy Strategy does not lead to additional emission reductions in comparison to currently implemented policies. The reason for this is that the scenario which forms the basis for our current policy projections assumes a high share of (low carbon) nuclear electricity by 2030 (19%). The Energy Strategy results in a lower share of nuclear energy (3% in 2030 assuming a linear development towards the 2050 target), and higher shares of oil and coal (assuming no CCS).
 The share of clean energy in the current policy projections is not clearly defined, because the impact of the fossil fuel subsidy phase out on the share is not known. Therefore, we cannot compare the shares of renewables in the NDC to the current policy scenario.
 There exists still no federal policy but only Emirate-level policies which vary throughout the UAE. The Ministry of Energy is leading the country’s first effort to develop a national strategy.
Historical emissions for the year 1994, 2000 and 2005 originate from the UNFCCC GHG Inventory database (UNFCCC, 2017). The UNFCCC dataset contains two errors, one for the year 1994 where agricultural emissions are 54.5 MtCO2e/a in the UNFCCC database while they are 1.8 MtCO2e/a in the 3rd National Communication (Ministry of Energy, 2012), and one for 2005, where fugitive emissions from the energy sector are double counted, once as methane emissions and once as carbon dioxide emissions (each 21.0 MtCO2e). We corrected the values using the data from the 3rd National Communication.
For other years (before 1994 and after 2005), we apply growth rates from different categories of emissions from the GHG inventories, using the following sources for the different categories:
UAE creates annual GHG inventories (see for example “Electricity insight | Ministry of Economic Development,” n.d.), however we were not able to find these outputs in the public domain and were thus unable to use them here.
To quantify the NDC target of 24% of clean energy, we take the following approach, based on the projections from Masdar and IRENA (Masdar Institute/IRENA, 2015). As it is not clear whether the NDC refers to total primary energy supply or electricity generation, we thereby differentiate between those two options:
Current policy projections
For the current policy projections, we use the following data sources:
We apply the growth rates of those datasets to our historical data for the year 2014 and sum them.
Two policies are not included in the Masdar/IRENA report: the Energy Strategy for 2050 (WAM, 2017) and the deregulation of prices of gasoline and electricity, which were previously subsidised (IEA, 2015). We consider the Energy Strategy a planned (rather than implemented) policy, and thus do not include the targets in the current policy projections.
The deregulation of fossil fuel prices is included in the current policy projections. To estimate the impact of the fuel subsidies phase out, we take into account an IISD report that calculates the impacts of subsidy phase-out in UAE and other countries. This report states that national energy related emissions in UAE would decrease by 14% in 2020 and 12% in 2025 if all subsidies were taken away (Merrill et al., 2015). It is unclear how the reductions relate to the different energy carriers, we thus present a range:
We assume that there is no impact on other gases.
To estimate the potential impact of the Energy Strategy (considered a planned policy), we take the following approach:
Bloomberg, 2015. U.A.E. Removes Fuel Subsidy as Oil Drop Hurts Arab Economies.
Ministry of Economic Development of New Zealand (n.d). Electricity insight.
European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC)/Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) (2013). Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), release EDGARv4.2 FT2010
Gulf News (2016). UAE raises clean energy target to 27% by 2021
IEA (2016a). CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion.
IEA (2016b). Energy Statistics and Balances. Paris, France.
IEA (2015). World Energy Outlook 2015. International Energy Agency, Paris, France.
Masdar Institute & IRENA (2015). Renewable Energy Prospects: United Arab Emirates.
Merrill, L., Bassi, A.M., Bridle, R. & Christensen, L.T. (2015). Tackling Fossil Fuel Subsidies and Climate Change: Levelling the energy playing field.
Ministry of Energy (2015). The UAE State of Energy Report.
Ministry of Energy (2015). Fuel Prices to be Regulated with effect from 1 August, 2015.
Ministry of Energy (2012). Third National Communication to the UNFCCC.
The National (2016). UAE to cut remaining energy subsidies, minister says.
US EPA (2012). Global Mitigation of Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gases, Washington, D.C., USA.
UNFCCC (2014). GHG emission profiles for non-Annex I countries.