The time is now to act on climate change | WWF

The time is now to act on climate change

Posted on
27 April 2016

by Tanzeed Alam, Climate & Energy Director, EWS-WWF

The severe storms that battered the UAE and the Gulf region last month were a stark reminder that we live in a world where our climate is becoming increasingly chaotic due to human activities.

For centuries, humans have been burning oil, gas and coal, which has released millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas that is causing our planet to warm at unprecedented rates. Recent evidence has shown that humanity’s release of CO2 is occurring 10 times faster than at any time since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. This accumulation of CO2 in our atmosphere is having profound impacts on our climate and peoples’ wellbeing and livelihoods. The world has already warmed by an average of 1oC since the middle of the 20th Century, with 2014 and 2015 being the hottest since records began.

To some, 1oC warming may not sound much but, to place it in context, scientists predict that warming beyond 1.5oC would lead to a suite of direct and indirect impacts on people. In the UAE, our summers are predicted to become hotter and more humid, with scientists predicting temperatures to rise 2-3oC by the middle of this century. Imagine the extra requirements for air conditioning this implies and peoples’ ability to be outdoors? It also means that storms like we experienced in March will become more frequent and intense, with direct impacts on people as well as our infrastructure and our economy. Increased temperatures will also negatively impact food production, particularly in countries that are water scarce; with the UAE importing some 89% of its food from overseas, this will affect our food security and wellbeing. 

So what are the world and the UAE doing about these changes to our climate and impacts on people? Action will require international collaboration on an unprecedented scale, a rapid shift away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy and efforts to adapt to the impacts by changing the way we build and protect our cities, infrastructure and economies.

In December 2015, the world came together at a United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris to agree to limit global temperature rise to 1.5oC this century. In advance of the Paris conference, all countries submitted their own pledges on how they will reduce CO2 emissions and deal with the impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, all the pledges made will currently lead to temperatures rising by 2.7oC, therefore failing to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

We are pleased to see that the UAE was among the first group of nations to sign the Paris Agreement at a ceremony in New York on 22nd April. By signing early, the UAE has already signaled its wish to act swiftly to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. However, intergovernmental cooperation and public-private partnerships will be key for effective action and the UAE has an important opportunity to play a leading role regionally and internationally by:
  1. Advocating for stronger action by the international community to increase their pledges and actions to reduce CO2 emissions urgently before 2020 and beyond so we have a realistic chance of staying below 1.5oC.
  2. Leading by example domestically by developing a national climate change policy that sets targets to reduce CO2 emissions to 2030 and beyond, mechanisms to achieve and improve goals over time, as well as plans to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
  3. Creating conditions where the private sector and general public are active participants in effective implementation to change lifestyles and consumption habits.
As part of the UAE’s transition to the post-oil era, the creation of the new Ministry of Climate Change & Environment was a significant milestone – indicating that strategic climate action is a national priority. In fact, acting early will create new jobs, non-oil economic sectors and make the country more resilient to climate change, safeguarding lives and livelihoods. Coordinated and rapid action across public-private and civil society is key in realizing these opportunities and EWS-WWF is uniquely placed and eager to facilitate these changes by working in partnership with these sectors of society.

Together, with decisive action, we can prevent the worst impacts of climate change. 

The op-ed was published on 25th April in Al Ittihad. The original version in Arabic version can be found on their website.