The UAE Government has identified energy diversification and climate change as being strategic priorities. The country became a Party of the UNFCCC in 1996 and ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2005. It is also a signatory of a number of other international conventions (see Annex 3). The Government’s progressive vision for the country is outlined in the National Charter 2021 and the UAE Government Strategy 2011-2013 (see Annex 4). Environmental governance at the national level is principally the role of the Ministry of Environment and Water and the Ministry of Energy.
The Petroleum Department of the Ministry of Energy serves as the UNFCCC focal point. While both ministries play a largely coordinative function, the Ministry of Energy does operate the electricity grid – the Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA) – in the northern emirates and manages the inter-connections between FEWA, DEWA (Dubai), ADREA (Abu Dhabi) and SEWA (Sharjah).
The Ministry of Environment has a climate change department and is currently coordinating with the Ministry of Energy to prepare a UAE Climate Change Report (incorporating a mitigation and adaptation plan), of which the country’s transition to a ‘green economy’ will be a central theme. The economic crisis is serving as a trigger for this agenda. Federal legislation is currently being worked on and other federal ministries are involved: e.g. the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established a Climate Change Office and the Ministry of Education is amending the curriculum to incorporate more environmental thinking.
Within the UAE, Abu Dhabi in particular, is widely recognised for its pathfinder role on climate change. A host of initiatives, including Masdar City (intended to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city), the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (a joint initiative with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), the Zayed Future Energy Prize (an annual US$1.5M prize recognising excellence in sustainable energy solutions), and the UAE’s successful bid to host the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), have all cemented Abu Dhabi’s position in climate change policy and technology innovation.
Through Dubai's Strategic Plan (2015), the emirate has prioritised the provision of sustainable infrastructure, including energy, electricity, water, roads, transportation and waste management, while protecting the environment. The objective is to provide efficient energy, electricity and water supplies to meet Dubai’s growing needs.
Dubai remains the only place in the world where green-building practices are expected to become mandatory for all new projects. Dubai Municipality remains the supreme planning authority for the whole of the Emirate, although its responsibilities largely exclude the free zones, of which there are now more than twenty. Dubai Municipality is currently circulating a draft energy efficiency building code that will, once agreed with market participants, establish a minimum energy efficiency performance for new buildings.
Tecom Investments, a Dubai holding company that owns and runs a total of nine free zones around the Emirate, has secured LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for two of its projects: the third phase of Dubai International Academic City, and the commercial interior fit-out at its head office in Dubai Internet City. A total of 45 other projects around the emirate, which between them involve about 100 buildings, are in the LEED certification process. The Energy and Environment Park (Enpark), Tecom’s sustainable energy and environmental free zone, will be built completely according to green-building principles. The Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, which runs the Dubai Silicon Oasis IT Freezone, also requires developers to work according to an approved sustainable development plan based on the LEED process. The largest number of new buildings that have been LEED certified are within areas of Dubai controlled by Dubai World, the government holding company that owns ports operator DP World, Jebel Ali Port and Free Zone, and real estate developers Nakheel and Limitless.
DEWA’s Strategic Plan 2010-2014 highlights carbon emission reductions as a core component of DEWA’s corporate objectives (see Annex 5). DEWA is currently seeking an alternative to natural gas for its power stations and water plants, and is raising awareness among consumers to conserve more energy: low-energy light fittings and water-saving features are now required in most new projects seeking a connection to the DEWA grid, and the Authority has given approval for developers to use solar power in their developments. DEWA is currently the sole producer of electricity and desalinated water in the Emirate, but it has recently been decided that private developers will be able to participate as Independent Power Producers (IPPs), which is expected to foster the development of renewable energy.