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The United Arab Emirates, host of the upcoming UN climate summit, is expected to outline its agenda for COP28 at a ministerial meeting in Brussels this week after a conservative update of its own emissions targets.
The petrostate pledged to cut absolute emissions by 19 per cent from 2019 levels in the third update to its commitment under the Paris agreement to limit global warming.
The UAE had already flagged during COP27 in Egypt last November that a new target for an emissions cut of 18 per cent by 2030 would be included in its next UN submission this year.
COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber, also the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, is expected to set out his priorities at the meeting this week attended by ministers and high-level representatives from more than 30 countries, including the G20.
The annual Ministerial on Climate Action is a forum for discussions on implementing the Paris agreement to limit global warming and the adoption of technical rules under the UN framework.
In recent speeches, Al Jaber has highlighted the need for a tripling of renewable energy capacity, increased energy efficiency and further hydrogen production, as well as cuts in methane emissions by 2030. But he has shied away from a timeline for the phase-down or phaseout of fossil fuels that the UN body of scientists has said is necessary.
Mariam Almheiri, the UAE minister of climate change and environment, on Tuesday said the update to the country’s own nationally determined contributions (NDCs) — pledges countries make under the Paris agreement — would bring it line with a goal of curbing temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels.
The Paris agreement ideally aims to limit a rise in global temperature of 1.5C. This requires a cut in global greenhouse gas emissions of 43 per cent by 2030.
“I hope we can actually push the ambition even more, but right now we are just below the two-degree line,” Almheiri told reporters in Dubai.
The minister said the road map sought to achieve a 40 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 when compared with the “business as usual” scenario, under which few or limited actions are taken to tackle climate change.
The previous economy-wide emissions reduction target of 31 per cent by 2030 would have resulted in emissions more than tripling compared with 1990 levels and was regarded as “insufficient” by the independent research group Climate Action Tracker.
When compared with the UAE’s “fair share”, which considers issues such as historic responsibility for climate change and ability to cut emissions, this target was “critically insufficient”, the group said in its last assessment.
“Now with this update, we hope to move closer to the 1.5[C] category,” Almheiri said. “So if we were in the almost [sufficient category] this would be good, but we cannot judge this, as they are completely independent.”
Climate Action Tracker said on Tuesday it had not yet looked at the UAE’s latest commitment.
However, Alex Armstrong from Mighty Earth, a non-profit campaign group, said the UAE targets were not ambitious enough and well outside what was needed in order to meet the Paris agreement.
“As hosts of COP28 later this year, it was imperative that UAE demonstrates global climate leadership,” he said. “However, its revised NDC only shows a 19 per cent absolute emissions reduction by the end of this crucial decade of action. The reality is that to stay within 1.5C, we need countries to slash their emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 in line with the Paris agreement.”
The UAE had a “very short window” within the remaining carbon budget to the “well below 2 degrees” level to diversify its economy from oil and gas dependency, said Mark Campanale of the Carbon Tracker Initiative think-tank.
It was “crucial” that the COP28 host make a central reference to its own plans for new fossil fuel production and link those plans to the remaining global carbon budget, he said.
Minister Almheiri said the new commitment would build on the UAE’s updated national energy strategy for 2050, which included a tripling of investment in renewable energy capacity over the next seven years, and raising the share of clean energy in the overall mix by 30 per cent by 2030.