The UAE has taken some preliminary, but still insufficient steps on climate change. Its climate pledge under the Paris Agreement is rated as “Highly Insufficient”.
In 2017, the government launched a new energy strategy, which aims to diversify the energy sector by developing renewable energy, coal and nuclear. Of most concern is the fact that this energy strategy foresees coal making up 12% of electricity generation in 2050. The UAE is in the process of building its first coal-fired power plant, a 2.4 GW plant, in Dubai. This is inconsistent with the need to phase out coal-based electricity production globally by 2040 in order to limit warming to 1.5°C.
Overall, we rate the UAE’s climate policies “Critically Insufficient”—they are inconsistent with a “fair” contribution to achieving the goals set out under the Paris Agreement.
Despite the development of renewable and nuclear energy, emissions from electricity generation are expected to increase by 2030 due to a continued expansion of fossil fuel-based electricity. In June 2019, the UAE commissioned a 1.2 GW solar PV plant, the UAE’s first major renewable energy project. The government has also recently issued tenders for around 5 GW of additional solar capacity, and is planning to construct 5.6 GW of nuclear energy in the near future.
On 1 January 2018, the UAE began deregulating energy prices and thus phasing out fossil fuel subsidies which is expected to limit the growth of emissions, but in itself is not sufficient to stop emissions from increasing. Petrol and diesel prices are subject to a 5% value-added tax (VAT) rate, whereas crude oil and natural gas are still exempt. Diesel prices are however still far below the global average.
With its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), the UAE pledged to pursue “a strategy of economic diversification that will yield mitigation and adaptation co-benefits”. Part of these efforts is increasing the share of renewable and nuclear energy in the “total energy mix” to 24% by 2021. Although this is not clearly specified in the NDC, we assume that this target refers to the electricity mix based on a number of government statements. Therefore, we rate UAE’s NDC “Highly Insufficient”.
Also, under current policies, emissions are projected to grow by 50% by 2030 from today. The deregulation of energy prices is an important element to limiting emissions growth, but alone not sufficient to stop the emissions rise.
The UAE’s NDC does not provide an economy-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target. Instead, it describes several measures targeting all sectors of the economy, without presenting abatement targets in terms of emission reductions. 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. Providing an economy-wide GHG emissions reduction target would be an important first step to strengthen the NDC in 2020, when all Parties to the Paris Agreement are invited to submit new or revised NDCs.
With implemented policies, the UAE’s greenhouse gas emissions projections reach 280 to 300 MtCO2e/a excl. LULUCF in 2030, which is approximately a 45% to 57% increase above 2010 levels. One important policy included here is the deregulation of energy prices, i.e. the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies, which the UAE started in August 2015. This phase-out is essential for addressing climate change over the short term, and for bringing the UAE into line with the emission levels connected to the clean energy target in its NDC. However, implemented policies are not sufficient to stop emissions from increasing beyond 2020.
In 2017, the UAE announced their Energy Strategy for 2050, aiming for 44% renewable energy, 38% natural gas, 12% “clean coal” and 6% nuclear in the nation’s 2050 electricity mix (WAM, 2017). We find the targets for the energy split in the strategy would have no additional impact on emissions even if the strategy were fully implemented. The development of coal also goes against the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit, which requires coal to be phased out globally by 2040 at the latest.
The exact definition of the efficiency target included in the energy strategy is unclear, so the full potential impact on emissions of the complete strategy cannot be quantified at present. For more information, see our description of the energy sector in “Current Policy Projections”.
On 14 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. It is designed as a framework for all mitigation and adaptation efforts across the country as well as setting mandates reflected in the UAE Vision 2021 and the UAE Green Agenda 2015-2030 (MOCCAE, 2017). The plan sets out a process to establish a national GHG emissions management system by 2020, to develop a national adaptation plan, and to diversify the UAE’s private sector. The CAT current policy projections do not quantify the national climate change plan because it also does not yet appear to include clearly defined emission reduction actions.