If plans for carbon capture go according to plan, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah will be on track join the narrow ranks of places using a technology aimed at slowing the pace of climate change. The Arabian Gulf is in a unique position to make progress in carbon capture where others have been stymied by a lack of financing or public resistance to storing emissions underground, said John Scowcroft, the general manager at the Global CCS Institute, a carbon capture and storage (CCS) industry advocate.
"In the current economic climate, there are difficulties in pushing CCS forward," he said. "It's not going as fast as we'd hoped - but it's not going as slowly as we'd feared."
For now, small steps are under way. Abu Dhabi's Masdar has received bids for an estimated US$200 million (Dh734.6m) pipeline between Mussafah and Taweelah.
That will be the first section of a planned 500km carbon emissions pipeline network connecting 6 million tonnes per year of emissions from aluminium smelters and other industrial sites to oilfields.
There, the carbon can be injected underground to pry oil from ageing fields or simply buried. Meanwhile last week, developers in Ras Al Khaimah signed an agreement to build a 270-megawatt coal-burning power plant designed to capture 1.1 million tonnes of carbon a year with a combination of chemicals and algae, which would then be converted to biofuel.
The remaining carbon would be sold on the market, rather than buried underground. Utico and Shanghai Electric, the power companies taking a one fifth equity stake in the Dh1.5 billion project, are lining up financing options so that the plant can come online by 2015, said Richard Menezes, the regional managing director of Utico.
And Dubai Electricity and Water Authority has been working since last year with McKinsey and other consultants on how to bring a similar clean coal power plant to the emirate.
The plans offer the UAE the opportunity to become a leader in an experimental technology that will be required on a large scale for the world to avoid the worst effects of carbon capture.
According to the International Energy Agency, at least 3,000 CCS projects are needed by 2050 to help to reduce emissions that year to half of 2005 levels.
Every year, plans around the world for carbon capture - practised today in Norway, Algeria and a few other nations - are delayed or cancelled.