Definition of Climate Change
The climate change phenomenon refers to seasonal changes over a long period with respect to the growing accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Tackling this phenomenon is of utmost importance given the pivotal role that climate plays in the formation of natural ecosystems and the human economies and civilizations on which they are based.
Recent studies have shown that human activities since the beginning of the industrial revolution – manifested in fossil fuel consumption for power generation, land deforestation for agriculture, and urban expansion – have contributed to an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by as much as 40%, from about 280 parts per million in the pre-industrial period, to 402 parts per million in 2016, which in turn has led to global warming.
Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has described anthropogenic climate change as “inevitable” in view of the numerous changes observed in the temperature of the atmosphere, oceans, and sea ice, in addition to some extensive changes in the climate cycle over the course of the 20th century.
Several parts of the world have already experienced the warming of coastal waters, high temperatures, a marked change in rainfall patterns, and an increased intensity and frequency of storms. Rising sea levels and temperatures are expected to be an increasing trend.
Moreover, the potential for severe and irreversible climate and environmental changes, including the continued melting of polar ice layers, such as those found in Greenland and West Antarctica, could cause sea level rises exceeding 10 meters, harmful fluctuations in ocean currents, and increased methane emissions.
The probability that most global warming of the last 15 years is the result of human actions is estimated to be more than 90%. The failure to address climate change will inevitably undermine both the world’s economic and social stability.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued an urgent call to bring about a marked reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions and for adaption measures to respond to the effects of anthropogenic climate change.
Reasons for the Interest in Climate Change
When we talk about climate change, we mean any long-term change in the average weather patterns in a particular area. Average weather patterns include average temperature, rainfall, wind conditions and numerous other climatic conditions. These changes may take place due to the dynamic processes of the Earth (e.g. volcano eruptions or earthquakes), due to external forces (e.g. changes in the intensity of solar radiation or fall of large meteorites), or due to human activities (e.g. deforestation, tree burning or the three types of pollution – land, air and sea), resulting in an ecological imbalance, the disappearance of certain animal and plant species, and the appearance of others.
Scientists expect the Earth’s average surface temperature to rise by 1.4 to 5.8°C between 1990 and 2100. This rise could cause numerous environmental changes, such as melting of ice, changing wind movement and occurrence of hurricanes, floods in certain areas and drought in others, and the occurrence of climatic phenomena such as tsunami. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found new and stronger evidence that most causes of high temperatures over the past 50 years can be attributed to human activities.
Climate change has brought many environmental risks to human health, such as ozone layer depletion, loss of biodiversity, increased pressures on food-producing systems and spread of infectious diseases. The three main categories of climate change impact on human health are:
(a) Direct impact (e.g. as a result of heatwaves, large-scale air pollution, natural disasters).
(b) Impact on ecosystems and environmental relationships (e.g. damage to agricultural crops, overabundance of mosquitoes,
depletion of marine species).
(c) Indirect impact (e.g. poverty, displacement, conflict over resources such as water, post-disaster epidemics).
As a result, climate change threatens to reduce, impede or reverse global progress for those suffering from malnutrition and dying of infectious diseases, especially in developing regions of the world.
National Interest in the Climate Change Phenomenon
Global concerns about climate change are being actively addressed by the UAE. The country participated in the preparatory meetings that led to the signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. It ratified the Convention shortly after its entry into force in 1994 under Federal Decree No. (61) of 1995. It also ratified the Kyoto Protocol immediately upon its enforcement in 2004 under Federal Decree No. (75) of 2004. The UAE was the first country in the region to ratify the Paris Agreement and to submit the instruments of ratification at the ceremony held by the United Nations for this purpose in its New York headquarters in September 2016.
The U.A.E. has taken a series of measures related to the Convention and the Agreement, namely:
- The Permanent National Committee for the Preparation of the National Communication of the United Arab Emirates, which was formed pursuant to Cabinet Resolution No. (114/1) of 2005. This committee has supervised the preparation of national emission reports and has submitted them to the United Nations Secretariat Framework Convention on Climate Change.
- The formation of the Permanent National Committee of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), pursuant to Cabinet Resolution No. (11) of 2004. This committee is deemed to be a national linking point for the mechanism.
- The formation of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Executive Committee to ensure that the CDM projects lead to the transfer of technology, the contribution to sustainable development in the country, the examination and approval of the projects proposed to be implemented within the Clean Development Mechanism and their submission to the CDM Permanent High Committee for endorsement.
- The formation of the National Committee for Climate Change pursuant to Cabinet Resolution No. 23 of 2010.
- Submission to the Convention Secretariat of the National Document of Contributions at the national level, which includes, inter alia, increasing the percentage of clean energy contribution in the national energy mix to 24% by 2021, and then raising it to 27% during that same year.
Moreover, concerns about climate change has also increased at the institutional level. A Department of Climate Change was created in the Ministry of Environment and Water in May 2009 and a Department of Climate Change and Energy Affairs was also created at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was entrusted with the climate change file at both regional and global levels.
In 2016 the name of the Ministry of Environment and Water was changed to the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. This indicated the level of importance of climate change to the UAE government. It should be noted that the inclusion of the climate change file under the Ministry of Environment is not merely a transfer of the climate change file from one authority to another, but rather pro-active vision by the country’s leadership. It recognizes the importance of climate change as a central issue in the future development of the UAE and the world, and the importance of enhancing efforts aiming at addressing it most effectively. This directive was reinforced by selecting climate change as one of the vital issues in the UAE’s visionary strategy.
UAE Climate Change Policy
Climate change causes fluctuations in the potential of food-producing countries due to drought, floods, new pest outbreaks, and low agricultural productivity, among other causes. The UAE imports food in large quantities, in some cases up to 80%. However, some of the countries from which we are currently importing may be forced to cease the production of certain crops due to climate change. On the other hand, countries that are not currently producing certain crops may start new exports.
We need to take these developments into consideration when formulating a federal food security policy, as we are at present. Food security is the focus of everyone's attention today. The UAE has several bodies addressing the issue, however, their individual efforts must converge into a federal government policy that will outline our path to sustainable food security based on the principles of sustainable development.
Food security involves several variables that depend entirely on climate change. Climate change concerns us as much as any other country. Therefore, it is important that our policies take into account climate change as a key driver of the future. Since its inception, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment has embraced programs related to mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change. For example, our National Food Security Strategy involves spearheading new directions in agriculture, such as cultivating new drought- and salinity-resistant varieties of seeds. We are also working on the National Food and Agriculture Policy.
The harsh climatic conditions in the UAE, in terms of soaring temperatures during the summer months by virtue of its geographical location in an area characterized by a hot desert climate and a dry nature with low rainfall, account for a large part of the emissions of greenhouse “carbon” gases in the country. However, this essentially require running cooling systems in buildings most of the year, as well as relying on seawater desalination processes that consume large amounts of energy. Despite these issues, the fact remains that such emissions still represent less than 0.5% of the global greenhouse “carbon” emissions.
These cumulative global emissions over the past 150 years have contributed to some of the country's climatic changes, namely the significant rise in temperature during summer, its decline in winter, and the increase in atmospheric humidity due to increased seawater evaporation resulting from elevated temperatures. This in turn has even changed the pattern of rainfall from light to heavy.
Efforts to Address Climate Change and Future Plans
The UAE is making great efforts on both global and local levels in all aspects of climate change. The Emirates is a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. It has also welcomed the Paris Agreement, an outcome reached by the parties to the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was held in Paris in 2015. The UAE is considered the first country in the world to allocate diplomatic positions to attachés specialized in energy and climate change following their training and technical qualification.
The United Arab Emirates has exerted multiple efforts that contribute to combatting climate change based on an energy source diversification policy, such as clean and renewable energy, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and to ensure sustainability. Moreover, the hosting of the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in Abu Dhabi demonstrates that the UAE is an ideal location for the Agency's headquarters. This decision conveys an important message of the world's serious attention to renewable sources of energy, striving to save the planet from environmental pollution, and the UAE's interest in renewable energy, sustainable development and Clean Development Mechanism projects.
As part of the UAE's ongoing quest to build a sustainable future for present and future generations, the Emirates has adopted the UAE's Green Development Strategy, which falls under the UAE Vision 2021, as the green economy is key to achieving sustainable development. The transition to a green economy will reap, for the State, several environmental benefits that will reduce the impact of climate change.
With respect to nature conservation, the Emirates built several dams and barriers in the country. Notably, their total number in 2013 reached 130 dams and barriers that contributed to the promotion and improvement of water resources and the prevention of the risks of torrents and floods. These dams and barriers have accumulated large quantities of water in their lakes since their construction. The State's interest in natural reserves is mainly due to their importance in the sustainability of biodiversity, the preservation of endangered species, and the protection of marine and coastal habitats – ranging from mangroves, marine plants and coral reefs to the development of fish reserves for food security.
With regard to the National Blue Carbon Project, recent studies have revealed that some coastal marine ecosystems play a critical role in minimizing the effects of climate change. These include mangrove forests, seagrass and salt lakes, which in turn carry a huge reservoir of carbon. Ecosystems store atmospheric carbon in their biomasses, as well as in their leaves, trunks and rich organic sediments, sometimes reaching rates above tropical carbon forest storage.
Climate change is of great importance and covers broad areas that comprise several economic sectors and ecosystems in the country. It is therefore included in many strategies, projects and initiatives. The procedures, plans and projects adopted by the UAE reflect the country's economic diversification strategy, its firm commitment to sustainable development, the use of modern innovations, and the promotion, dissemination and application of the concept of green growth to ensure prosperity and environmental protection.
Aspects of Cooperation with Specialized Establishments
The UAE’s active participation was not restricted to regional and global establishments, but extended to several technical and joint committees concerned with environmental issues. It is to be noted that the UAE hosts the headquarters of several regional and international organizations concerned with the environment. The country cooperates with them to implement various important projects, such as the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), the Arabian Peninsula Program for the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the Global Green Growth Institute, which the UAE has hosted its MENA regional headquarters since 2011. The country has taken upon itself the responsibility of mobilizing international efforts aiming to find and to develop sustainable solutions to environmental issues.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment concluded several agreements and memoranda with local strategic partners to implement the Ministry’s strategic objectives and support the UAE Vision 2021, most notably a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Education to promote environmental awareness among school students and educate them about leading the United Arab Emirates toward a sustainable future through school activities.
In the context of the Ministry's keenness to develop an integrated and comprehensive monitoring and assessment program to evaluate the condition of the marine and coastal environment, memoranda of understanding were signed with the National Center of Meteorology and Seismology, Abu Dhabi Environment Agency, Dubai Municipality, Environment and Protected Areas Authority in Sharjah, Municipality and Planning Department in Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah Municipality and the Environmental Protection and Development Authority in Ras Al Khaimah.The program allows technical support, the exchange of experiences, the transfer of knowledge and coordination in relevant areas among all parties with respect to the establishment of a national marine and coastal environment database. In addition, the program will also facilitate harmonization between existing monitoring and control plans and the establishment of unified national indicators for monitoring the directions of marine and coastal environment progress.