The UAE has ratified the Paris Climate Agreement but what comes next? | WWF

The UAE has ratified the Paris Climate Agreement but what comes next?

Posted on
28 September 2016

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

The 21st September will go down as a milestone with the UAE committing to tackle the threat of global climate change. As HE Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, the UAE’s first ever minister for climate change, was congratulated by Ban Ki Moon for the UAE ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement, I couldn’t help but feel proud of the UAE setting down this marker. It showed that the UAE not only recognizes that climate change is a national priority, but tackling it early will bring many benefits and is vital to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. 

However, it is also important to recognise that this only just the beginning of a long journey and there are some major challenges that need to be addressed.

Firstly, the collective pledges made by all countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5oC above preindustrial levels. Without further ambition to increase and implement these pledges, our planet is due to warm by about 3oC in the 21st Century, something that will bring substantial impacts and significant life changing consequences to the UAE and the region. 

Imagine how peoples’ health would be affected if the extremely hot and humid summer days that we experienced during this years’ Ramadan were the average summer day? In addition, these levels of temperatures will require substantially more energy to keep our buildings cool, hitting everyone’s bank accounts. Closer to home, Yemen, is already facing the impacts of climate change, where its dwindling groundwater reserves and flooding are pushing people further from their homes to survive. Climate change will exacerbate the already fragile situation there today and further impact regional and local security. 

So what can the UAE do practically to address this issue? 

Firstly, climate change needs to be recognized as not just an environmental issue, but one that is critical to regional stability and security, requiring a concerted effort to address it across government bodies, countries and other sectors of society. By being the first country in the Middle-East to ratify the Paris Agreement, the UAE also plays an important leadership role in the region to unify countries to see the issue as a threat to local and regional stability, economic security and human well-being. 

Domestically, the UAE can lead further by example in ensuring that the National Climate Change Plan that is being developed by the Ministry of Climate Change & Environment is ambitious, with strong targets to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and solid plans to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. This will need to be coupled with strong capacity building and awareness programmes for government, businesses and the general public to improve understanding of key issues and ensure there is real alignment amongst sectors to implement the plans. Open and constructive dialogue will also facilitate the building of strong and innovative partnerships between sectors to create solutions that protect and benefit this and future generations. In fact the journey has already begun - we are seeing solar panels appearing on peoples’ rooftops, more energy efficient buildings and hybrid and electric cars for sale. There will be major benefits for the country if these steps are taken early, become ‘the norm’ and occur across all seven emirates. Our economy will grow and diversify away from oil, human health and well-being will improve and new economic sectors and jobs will be created. 

As a civil society organization working on the ground to find practical solutions to these problems, we at EWS-WWF are looking for like-minded and willing partners from government and businesses to make these changes a reality. The journey has just begun and although certain consequences of climate change are now irreversible, they are not unstoppable. 

This op-ed was published in Al Ittihad newspaper in Arabic on Monday 26th September 2016.