The greenhouse gas emissions of the United Arab Emirates rank among the highest globally on a per capita basis, an uncomfortable metric for the petrostate striving to be a green leader as host of the UN COP28 climate summit this year.
Middle Eastern oil and gas producing nations, including Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, have among the highest carbon emissions per capita globally, surpassing other big emitters including the US, China and Russia, according to the Oxford-based research group Our World In Data.
In absolute terms, China and US are the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters on an annual basis, while the US is the largest historical polluter.
All countries are being challenged to meet the globally agreed Paris Agreement aim of limiting warming well below 2C, and ideally 1.5C.
The UAE appointed the head of its state-owned oil company, Sultan al-Jaber, as COP28 president last week, a decision that provoked a backlash from climate experts and activists.
US climate envoy John Kerry and the EU green chief Frans Timmermans this week defended Jaber’s appointment nonetheless, citing his renewable energy credentials.
Jaber launched Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s clean energy company, in 2006, which has become one of the largest renewables groups worldwide and is aiming to grow its global renewables capacity to 100GW by 2030.
However, the UAE’s national emissions reduction target is rated as “highly insufficient” by the independent scientific research group Climate Action Tracker.
The economy-wide emissions reduction target of 31 per cent by 2030, compared to a “business as usual” scenario in 2030, would result in emissions more than tripling compared to 1990 levels, CAT estimated.
When compared to the UAE’s “fair share” of climate mitigation, the target was also “critically insufficient”, the group said.
The country announced during COP27 last November that a new target for an emissions cut of 18 per cent by 2030, compared to 2019 levels, would be included in its next UN submission this year.
The UAE had “prioritised climate action in its national agenda,” the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment said to the Financial Times in response to the CAT conclusions.
Jaber touted the UAE’s credentials in his first speech as COP28 president last week, ahead of the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi. He said the UAE was the first in the region to commit to the Paris Agreement to limit global warming, and pointed to the nation’s renewable energy goals.
Opec members the UAE and Saudi Arabia are competing to be the countries that sell the last barrels of oil as demand for fossil fuels reduces, arguing that their production processes are less emissions intensive per barrel than those of other nations.
Emissions intensity measures are relative to output, which means that production and absolute emissions can continue to rise even if emissions intensity falls.
The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, led by Jaber, announced this year that it planned to spend $15bn by 2030 on clean power, carbon capture and storage and electrification to reduce its carbon intensity by 25 per cent by 2030.
That spending is just a portion of the projected total capital spending of $150bn between 2023 and 2027, an amount recently approved by Adnoc’s board.
“As a progressive and responsible energy provider, Adnoc is committed to making today’s energy cleaner while investing in the clean energies of tomorrow,” Adnoc said in a statement to the FT.
More than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists were registered to attend COP27, a quarter more than the year before, according to analysis by the campaign group Global Witness. The UAE brought the largest number of lobbyists of any government delegation, at 70, the campaign group found.
Jaber said this week that COP28 would be a “COP for Action and a COP for all, bringing together the global north and south and leaving no one behind.”
“COP28 in the UAE will seek to find global consensus so that we can go further and faster and move from goals to getting it done,” he said.
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