x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The incentive we need to go green is financial

Cheap energy costs in the UAE means that awareness campaigns are not enough to convince us to reduce our consumption.

Going green was a phrase that rang in my ears the whole time I lived in California.

From the moment I arrived, politicians, advertisements and the media hammered the message into the masses that the environment mattered and we could all do our bit to pitch in.

This was in stark contrast to the message, or lack thereof, being communicated in the UAE at the time I left its shores.

Public knowledge and debate discussing energy conservation within the country seemed a non-issue and mention of the topic was rare.

So I was pleasantly surprised, upon landing in Abu Dhabi, to find that the first advertisement banner at the airport pertained to energy awareness.

This was to be the first of many instances where I came across policy, campaigns and open debate relating to the relevant issue of energy use.

The existence of Masdar and its promotion of renewable energy drove home the message that conservation of energy was essential to the sustainable development of the country.

Earth Hour, the international campaign encouraging people to switch off their lights for an hour on the last Saturday in March each year, was observed and promoted by Abu Dhabi Municipality as a tool to further awareness.

I was even fortunate enough to attend an open majlis set up by an environmentally conscious Emirati at his farm outside Abu Dhabi, which served in bringing together like-minded citizens and residents.

What I found there, and throughout the country, were Emiratis who were genuinely concerned about their environment but did not necessarily know how to act on that concern in their daily lives.

But for them, and many others, the culture of overconsumption had a stronger influence than the government's environmental awareness campaigns.

Many still crank up their home and car air conditioning year round, left lights on at home throughout the day, took unnecessary trips in their vehicles - even leaving them running, A/C on, when they stepped outside.

And why not?

Petrol prices in the UAE, although higher than many other countries in the Gulf, are around the 16th lowest in the world and set to drop even further if the Federal National Council's recent petrol price cut proposal is adopted.

Utilities are also heavily subsidised, causing electricity and water rates in the country to be among the lowest in the world.

These low costs do not provide me, or many others, with the incentive to consume less.

For all the environmental awareness I encountered in California, nothing reduced US energy consumption more than hikes in petrol and utility prices.

Although our country has made great strides in promoting awareness and debate regarding reduced consumption among its society, perhaps the next step is to give us a financial incentive to act on this common knowledge.