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Towards COP28: Environmental stewardship in the UAE and what it means for India

Towards COP28: Environmental stewardship in the UAE and what it means for India

Deepika Matang

The United Arab Emirates will host the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at Dubai Expo City from 30 November to 12 December 2023. Dubbed the UAE’s most important event of the year, COP28 marks the culmination of the country’s groundbreaking efforts to advance the cause of environmental sustainability and climate action.

The UAE organized the annual Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week from 14 to 19 January, laying the groundwork for the 2023 conference scheduled for later this year. The country aims to leverage its 15 years of expertise in staging such global sustainable development events, bringing together public and private stakeholders such as governments, businesses, NGOs, scientists and other experts in a forum and contributing to effective Climate action leads to constructive dialogue. This year’s COP will be decisive as it will conduct the first global stocktake of the 2015 Paris climate agreement to assess the world’s collective performance in limiting global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The UAE recently appointed Dr. Sultan bin Ahmad Al-Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, CEO of ADNOC and Chairman of Masdar, the UAE’s flagship renewable energy initiative, as President-elect for a two-week-long event. As a leader of a diverse organization, he will use his diverse leadership experience to spearhead discussions on finding an ambitious, inclusive and pragmatic solution to climate change. Additionally, the country has rolled out a water resource management policy to reduce its district cooling mechanism’s reliance on desalinated water, in close alignment with the conference’s sustainable cooling agenda. President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan acknowledged the country’s efforts to make COP28 a success and rightly declared 2023 the “Year of Sustainable Development”.

Climate Action in the UAE

Over the past fifteen years, the UAE has taken several important steps to establish itself as a regional leader on its way to becoming an international catalyst for climate action. It consistently ranks among the top states in the MENA region for its Environmental Performance Index, maintaining its top score of 100 in categories such as marine protected areas, ecosystem services and reducing wetland shrinkage, carbon dioxide emissions and black carbon growth. In 2006, it established Masdar Renewables, one of the leading clean energy developers, laying the groundwork for Abu Dhabi, the world’s first sustainable city, in 2008. Since then, the country has invested more than $40 billion in clean energy and has become the permanent host of IRENA’s headquarters. The UAE’s environmental stewardship ambitions are also reflected in its readiness to ratify the Paris Agreement, making it the first country in the region to do so, and subsequently launching a national campaign to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Despite being the seventh largest oil producer, the UAE has recognized the need for a fossil fuel-free future to combat global warming. While it acknowledges the centrality of hydrocarbons in the ongoing transition phase, it has been driven to diversify its energy mix to include green, renewable and nuclear energy, aiming to integrate clean energy in the electricity generation mix by 2050. The share was expanded to 50%. Furthermore, it argues that economic growth is not necessarily antithetical to environmental sustainability and aims to create a symbiotic relationship between these two seemingly hostile goals. Therefore, green technology is viewed as a potential driver of growth in the post-oil era.

India-UAE Bilateral Cooperation

Despite the UAE’s historical ties to India, the unprecedented momentum in their relationship in recent years has brought the two countries closer than ever. The multidimensional friendship also leads them to cooperate in environmental protection. India is one of the top five renewable energy producers, with 40% of its total installed capacity coming from clean sources. As it strives to meet 50% of its electricity needs from renewable sources and realize its larger vision of net-zero emissions by 2070, India has found a natural friend in the UAE.

Following the landmark Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding in May 2022 to strengthen cooperation on climate action. As a co-member of I2U2, a quadripartite mechanism in West Asia, the UAE has pledged to invest US$2 billion across regions to develop a food park nation, addressing food insecurity through sustainable technologies and renewable energy that will reduce food waste and conserve fresh water and maximize yield. India also appreciated the UAE’s initiative to expand carbon sinks and plant 100 million mangroves by 2030. India has the world’s largest collection of mangroves and has joined forces with the UAE and Indonesia in the joint venture Mangrove Climate Alliance, which was formed at COP27 last year.

India, along with other populous developing countries such as Brazil, China and South Africa, has actively promoted climate finance and technology transfer in developed countries during the UN climate conference. It uses global forums to ask for a clear definition and scope of financing, as well as the estimated speed of delivery. At COP27 in Shelm el-Sheikh, Egypt, these countries made a breakthrough by establishing a Loss and Damage Fund to provide technical and financial assistance to developing countries and countries with fragile environments.

India, ranked seventh on the global climate risk index, seeks to benefit from the arrangement to meet its climate goals. Therefore, this year’s COP28 is crucial for the country, as it will determine the nature of the fund and its operating framework for the next few years. Furthermore, the UAE as host country also guarantees an inclusive platform that bridges the divide between North and South across the globe. Hence, their thriving bilateral relationship will prove beneficial for India to better maintain its equitable position on climate change mitigation based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

The author is a PhD candidate at the Center for West Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproduction of this content without permission is prohibited.

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