Current Policy Projections
CAT estimates that the UAE’s greenhouse gas emissions would reach 280 to 300 MtCO2e excl. LULUCF in 2030, which is approx. a 45% to 57% increase compared to 2010 levels. With currently implemented measures, the 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.
1 | 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.
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 in the UAE (Masdar Institute/IRENA, 2015).
In 2017, the UAE also 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. Projections from the Department of Energy and the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, the contribution of renewables in primary energy will increase. They however also expects a continued increase of gas (Trichakis et al., 2018).
It is unclear how UAE defines “clean coal”, although this probably means coal-fired power with carbon capture and storage or high efficiency low emission (HELE) coal-fired power. A 2.4 GW capacity coal power plant, the Hassyan power plant, is under construction in Dubai. This development contrasts with the need to phase out coal globally. To keep the window open for a 1.5°C-consistent GHG emission pathway, no new coal-fired power plants should be built and GHG emissions from existing coal-fired power plants should be reduced by 30% by 2025 worldwide (Kuramochi et al., 2017). The IPCC 1.5 special report from October 2018 confirmed the need for the global electricity generation share for coal to be close to 0% in 2050 (IPCC, 2018).
In addition, the Energy Strategy for 2050 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 emissions 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).
In August 2015, the UAE decided to deregulate energy prices by phasing out subsidies for gasoline and diesel. The subsidies had become a burden to national budgets and the UAE made use of low global energy prices to minimise the immediate impact on consumers (Bloomberg, 2015; Ministry of Energy, 2015b).
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 for decreasing emissions in the short term. The President of the UAE announced in August 2017 that fuel prices would be subject to VAT as of 1 January 2018 through Federal Decree Law No. 8 (Ministry of Finance, 2017), introduced to compensate for the fiscal deficits caused by years of low oil prices (Financial Times, 2018). Petrol and diesel prices have been subjected to a 5% VAT rate, whereas crude oil and natural gas are still exempt. However, in the medium term, the UAE will have to implement additional measures to induce a stronger shift to low-carbon alternatives. To put the world onto a 1.5°C-consistent GHG emissions pathway, the last fossil fuel passenger car globally should be sold by 2035-2050 worldwide (Kuramochi et al., 2017).
In light of the developments around reducing the UAE’s reliance on gas imports, green building codes became mandatory in 2011 in Abu Dhabi under the Estidama Program and in 2014 in Dubai (Emirates GBC, 2014). Dubai has its own energy service company, Etihad ESCO, which aims to make Dubai built environment a leading example of energy efficiency for the region and the world. It does this by executing building retrofits, increasing the penetration of district cooling and facilitating access to project finance (Etihad ESCO, 2014; MOCCAE, 2017). To keep the window open for a 1.5°C-consistent GHG emission pathway, all new buildings should be fossil-free and near-zero energy by 2020 worldwide, and renovation rates should be increased from less than 1% in 2015 to 5% by 2020 worldwide (Kuramochi et al., 2017).
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, 2015a).
2 | 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.