By Vanessa Sadza
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a region celebrated for its economic affluence and architectural wonders, is grappling with a less glamorous issue – severe air pollution. Hosting the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai from November 30 to December 12, 2023, the UAE confronted its environmental realities head-on.
This event, a pivotal gathering under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, concluded the first Global Stocktake of the Paris Agreement, adopting a decision calling for accelerated climate action and the first-ever COP decision to transition away from fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, the historic agreement provides loopholes that legitimise so-called transitional fuels, which can be even more polluting than fossil fuels. Renewables are cheaper, faster and more secure. The text also mentions finance – trillions of dollars of investment will be needed but fails to provide numbers on what will be provided and when.
Considering the UAE’s alarming environmental situation, particularly in Dubai, the country’s focal point of economic activities and dense urbanization, the challenge is multifaceted. Dubai, with its impressive skyline and bustling economy, is also a hotspot for air pollution, largely due to its high concentration of vehicles and businesses.
The city’s air pollution mainly comprises particulate matter from both natural and human-made sources, such as dust, sea salt, and ash. These particles, compounded by emissions from vehicles, industries, construction activities, energy production, and maritime operations, contribute significantly to the region’s poor air quality.
Arctic Basecamp’s Science Manager Dr. Susana Hancock experienced Dubai’s air firsthand at COP28. Reflecting on her experience, she shared:
“In the first few days of COP28, many attendees were dealing with nosebleeds, new coughs and headaches. On the third day, I asked the health clinic, and they said the cause was very likely the poor air quality. My apartment overlooked the world’s largest natural gas power plant, which is a major source of local air pollution. At times, the smog was so thick, I could barely see the 24 lanes of highway just 12 storeys below. It felt surreal to take the metro by the power plant–with the gas flaring–every morning and night to a climate conference. But what was weirder still, is that the local air quality seemed not to be a topic inside the conference beyond the casual comments like ‘Oh yeah, of course that’s why I have a headache.’”
Addressing this pressing issue requires a comprehensive approach. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at COP28 focused on areas like climate finance, climate adaptation, addressing loss and damage, climate technology, and ensuring a just and equitable transition for communities most affected by the climate crisis.
UNEP’s five-pronged strategy to combat the climate crisis includes compiling research for science-based decision-making, supporting low-carbon transition across sectors, ensuring a just transition, developing sustainable financing mechanisms, and supporting resilience-building projects in communities.
This multifaceted approach resonates with the needs of a city like Dubai, where reducing greenhouse gas emissions and tackling air pollution is not just an environmental imperative but also crucial for sustaining its economic and social vibrancy
The UAE’s participation in COP28 and its commitment to addressing these challenges is a step towards reconciling its economic aspirations with environmental sustainability, setting an example for other nations facing similar challenges.
To read about solutions for all sectors and regions to avoid the worst effects of climate change, click HERE.
The following gauges show up-to-date data regarding key indicators in the Arctic. These indicators clearly point to the crisis at hand.