Each month, Weekend will pose a different question to be debated on by a series of female Emirati columnists. This week, we ask Mariam Al Qubaisi:
What can the UAE do to reduce its carbon footprint?
The UAE has long inspired awe with its fast-paced development and visionary leadership. Recently dubbed “the happiest” Arab country and home to the world’s tallest building and large industries, the UAE, sadly, is also home to one of the highest carbon footprints.
Back in 2008, residents of the UAE were accused of having the largest carbon footprint – that’s not necessarily true. This is mainly because of the confusion between carbon footprint and carbon emissions per capita – which simply divides the amount of carbon emissions of one country by its population. This data is skewed by the large-scale, energy-intensive industries (mainly driven by the burning of fossil fuels) and the relatively small population. We’re not without fault – UAE residents must adopt radical lifestyle changes. Thankfully, the UAE has taken a proactive step and embarked upon large-scale nuclear and renewable energies projects to meet its long-term needs in a clean way.
The first step to understand the scale of a problem is to measure it – to express it in numbers; to allow for assessment and comparison. The UAE must adopt stringent and transparent carbon accounting and monitoring methods. This should also be inclusive of the carbon footprint of imported manufactured products. Once an accounting system is in place, we will be able to identify potential leverage points for effective carbon-emission mitigation and adaptation.
Environmental education should be promoted in schools as well as government and private institutions. We don’t see powerful interventions or campaigns that promote or reward “green” lifestyle changes. We need to have stronger “green” campaigns spearheaded by genuine believers of the need for change, and we also need to have the right infrastructure in place to accommodate such changes.
Carbon taxing is also a simple way to abate emissions. It involves taxing the carbon content of fossil fuels at any point in the product cycle. This could be levied on imported products and motor vehicles rather than CO2 emissions. Local production of food and technology needs to be encouraged and promoted using subsidies.
Finally, a region-based initiative dedicated to tackle carbon-emissions management in the Gulf region should be set up. Since our Gulf neighbours have similar carbon footprints and, as institutes in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have already invested in renewable energy, much can be achieved through collaboration. Building on the Spirit of the Union instilled by our late Sheikh Zayed, who initiated the GCC, we can work together towards reducing the UAE’s (and the region’s) carbon footprint!
Mariam Al Qubaisi (@MM_AlQubaisi) teaches environmental science at Zayed University and is co-founder of the Arab Innovation Network, a youth initiative that aims to empower research and innovation in the Arab world.
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