UAE’s Green Economy

Over one third of the world is embarking on what can only be described as a revolution; the green economy. At the 2012 Rio +20 Conference, the term Green Economy was recognized as a tool for achieving environmental, social and economic development and while the concept isn’t new – with many small island developing states adopting green economy strategies prior to the conference – it is carrying momentum like never before.

Over 40 countries have implemented green economy strategies and more than 20 UN entities have introduced initiatives to facilitate the uptake. For example, the Partnership for Action on the Green Economy aims to assist 30 countries by 2030, and a respectable 20% of the target was reached by 2014. The UN REDD Program, an inter-agency initiative with the FAO, UNDP and UNEP to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation is working with 55 countries.

Countries have their own understanding of the green economy and its role in helping to achieve sustainable development, and these differences are largely influenced by the risks, challenges and opportunities that climate and demographic change present to them. The general consensus is a low carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive model which values natural capital and improves human well-being. It covers subjects as wide as energy diversification to green finance and transportation. It is a concept requiring extensive national and international leadership and while previously, governments have been hesitant to commit to short-term targets, the tide is turning, and legislation is now anticipated to achieve results in as little as 10-15 years.

The Middle East presents an exciting lens through which to understand the green economy, not least because the region is at a crossroads with environmental challenges and opportunities; on the one hand, the region faces risks associated with being a non-renewable energy exporter, and on the other hand, it is geographically advantageous in its capacity to tap into solar energy. To look at the UAE in particular, the nation’s commitment to diversifying and embracing the green economy is demonstrated by the multiple frameworks and strategies in place. The UAE National Agenda Vision 2012 and the sustainability targets set for EXPO 2020 – the theme of which being, ‘connecting minds, creating the future’ and sub-themes of sustainability, mobility and opportunity – shape the six-fold strategy which encompasses legislation and policy, and is applicable sector-wide. Areas of focus are categorized into; the construction of smart cities, the development of clean energies and related technologies, the encouragement and facilitation of sustainable lifestyles and tourism, research into and the establishment of environmental finance, and the advancing of green industries.

Part of this national strategy looks at food and water production – a part of the economy which is under significant pressure from demographic and climate change. In the UAE, only 13% of land is suitable for agriculture, and this is dependent on irrigation. The government has therefore, opted to invest in hydroponics; a soil-less technique for growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water. It is a useful technique in regions where the climate is unfavourable or where there is limited agricultural land, since the process recycles 70-90% of water it uses. The government is offering loans, totalling AED 3 million, to farmers to begin converting to the soil-less technique in effort to improve food security. The government hopes to achieve 40% of vegetables to be produced within the UAE.

The main message to be taken from this volume of legislation is that there is much activity in the concept of green economy. Perhaps most interestingly, UAE’s legislation is looking to 2020 or 2030 for results. This is a refreshing change to previous legislation which tends to delay results until 2050, demonstrating that governments and businesses are seeing the potential of acting now rather than later.