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COP28 Perspective: The UAE – contradiction or blueprint?

29/11/2023

3 min read

Head and shoulders photo of Dr Waddah S Ghanem Al Hashmi FEI, Honorary Chair of EI Middle East and a senior director in the energy sector Photo: W Al Hashmi 
Dr Waddah S Ghanem Al Hashmi FEI, Honorary Chair of EI Middle East and a senior director in the energy sector

Photo: W Al Hashmi 

With COP28 starting in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Dr Waddah S Ghanem Al Hashmi FEI, Honorary Chair of EI Middle East and a senior director in the energy sector, reflects on the duality of the UAE’s energy story and how this year’s Energy Institute (EI) Energy Barometer survey offers a fresh perspective on his country’s role in tackling the climate crisis.

Tomorrow, the world’s eyes land on Dubai for perhaps the most significant climate summit since the Paris Agreement of 2015. It takes place against a backdrop of heightened climate shocks and concerns about the pace of the global energy transition. The stakes are high and our industry has a central role to play.

 

For the UAE, holding the Presidency is both a great honour and a huge responsibility. It’s also been the subject of considerable comment, in particular among the global environmental movement who perceive a contradiction.

 

The UAE is endowed with huge oil and gas resources, making it a leading player in global energy markets and sustaining one of the world’s wealthiest per capita economies. According to the Energy Institute’s (EI) Statistical Review of World Energy, it is the seventh largest oil producer and holds the ninth largest gas reserves.

 

I’ve seen the contribution the oil and gas industry has made to our nation’s growth and success first hand, through my work over more than 15 years in compliance, health, safety and sustainability in the energy sector. But, when we look at the global climate crisis and the UAE’s emissions of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s clear we have a long way to travel on the road to net zero.

 

In this, the UAE’s predicament is not dissimilar to that faced by many economies around the world wrestling with the complexities of transitioning from heavy dependence on fossil fuels to a sustainable future. But headway is being made, and this points to the other side of the UAE’s energy story that’s often eclipsed by oversimplistic generalisations.

 

Our country is seeking to play a leading role in tackling the climate crisis; indeed, it was the first Gulf state to commit to domestic net zero by 2050.

 

The energy industry has made significant contributions to society in the past and, with the growing risks to our way of life and economy, it’s clear that we need to do so again, but in a different way.

 

The UAE and the Energy Barometer
We are well-placed to finance the required investment in clean energy, whether that’s to reduce fugitive methane emissions and flaring in conventional energies, channelling multi-billion-dollar investments into renewables at home and internationally, or aiming to secure a significant role in a future global low-carbon hydrogen market. Just two weeks ago, we saw the inauguration of Masdar’s enormous Al Dhafra solar PV project. These are major steps, demonstrating real intent.

 

It’s because of this duality, and in the run up to holding the Presidency of the world’s climate negotiations, that it’s been fascinating to turn the focus of the EI’s Energy Barometer onto the views of professionals working across the host country’s energy industry.

 

The Energy Barometer is an insightful window on the views of the EI’s members and others working across the vital field of energy. The surveys, conversations and panels we’ve undertaken over the last six months across all parts of our industry, supply and demand side, deliver a mixed picture of concern and confidence.

 

There is concern that the way of life in our arid, semi-desert geography may, by the middle of the century, face greater impacts of climate change compared to elsewhere in the world; concern about the risks posed to our economy of dependence on fossil fuels as the world pivots to low carbon; and concern for the need to take more ambitious steps towards energy efficiency, in particular in the built environment and water sectors.

 

Positive potential 
But we find confidence too – in the ability of the UAE to meet its energy diversification and emission reduction targets. In fact, more than 60% of those we engaged with felt these are likely to be met or exceeded. This contrasts with the doubts expressed in previous Barometers by their peers in the UK context, and I think it reflects a strong goal-focused, can-do approach in the UAE.

 

The energy industry has made significant contributions to society in the past and, with the growing risks to our way of life and economy, it’s clear that we need to do so again, but in a different way.

 

As in other economies, it will require visionary leadership to continue the shift of our economy and way of life towards a low-carbon footing. I’m glad the EI is playing a role in this with the launch of its Executive Leadership in Energy Programme here in the Middle East.

 

The Energy Barometer provides a positive outlook for the future in the region. Embracing its insights could position the UAE as a blueprint for fostering the energy transition not only within the Gulf states but also on a global scale.

 

Others have written in this series of COP28 Perspectives of what the climate science demands of the world’s governments here in Dubai, and what a successful energy package in two weeks’ time may look like.

 

I believe His Excellency Dr Sultan Al Jaber and his team at COP28 have an opportunity to build new bridges among diverse nations. We look forward to this leadership over the coming two weeks and beyond.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author only and are not necessarily given or endorsed by or on behalf of the Energy Institute.

 

  • Read the EI’s full report Energy Barometer 2023: UAE in transition here.
  • Find out more about the EI’s new Executive Leadership in Energy Programme here.
  • Dr Waddah S Ghanem Al Hashmi FEI will be speaking about the issues in this article at a session in the Masdar pavilion in the COP28 Green Zone on Monday 4 December, alongside the EI’s President Juliet Davenport OBE HonFEI, CEO Nick Wayth CEng FEI and EI Middle East Young Professional Chair Shahda Al Taie AMEI. The session is unticketed, but a pass for the Green Zone is required, available here.