CANCUN, MEXICO // Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, addressed a UN summit on Thursday with a speech that highlighted the country’s support for the nations most at risk from the effects of climate change.
He assured the audience of the country’s willingness to help address the problem and listed measures taken by the UAE.
“We have pledged US$350 million [Dh1.3bn]for renewable energy projects in developing countries, as well as support for small island states,” he said.
Small island nations are vulnerable to rising waters because so much of their area is close to sea level.
Sheikh Abdullah expressed his concern about the expected negative impacts of climate change.
“Improving science shows us a litany of receding ice sheets and glaciers, of rising sea levels, and of more unpredictable extremes in weather patterns,” he said.
The tone was markedly different from that of Ali al Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, who spoke later. He urged that his country’s economic interests should not be harmed by measures to protect the climate.
Any agreement, he said, should “discourage the adoption of protectionist trade policies that are disguised and biased against the various types of fossil fuels”. While noting that Saudi Arabia could continue its efforts to reduce its dependence on oil, he said it needed “greater co-operation from the international community, through increased foreign investment and transfer of technology”.
Saudi Arabia’s position was later echoed by the Kuwaiti trade minister, Ahmad al Haroon.
Mari Luomi, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, who has been studying the climate policies of Gulf countries, pointed to the difference between the UAE and Saudi Arabia speeches.
Sheikh Abdullah’s statement was “a signal for international audiences that the UAE does not have reservations for the [International Panel on Climate Change] work like some other Opec [Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] member states, most prominently Saudi Arabia”, she said.
“Mentioning the support for small island states is also something very interesting and peculiar, as traditionally the Opec member states and the Alliance of Small Island States have held opposite positions in many issues in the negotiations,” she said. “Building bridges is, of course, always extremely positive.”
Observers of Saudi Arabia’s position were most concerned with the attempt to link negotiations on how to help the poor nations worst hit by climate change to its own economic concerns.
“You are taking away funds that need to go to very vulnerable states that are actually feeling the impacts of climate change as we speak,” said Lama el Hatow, a campaigner from the League of Independent Activists, an alliance of Middle Eastern organisations with headquarters in Beirut.
Considering Saudi Arabia’s wealth, an attempt to compare its needs with those of states such as Bangladesh, or to island states that will be submerged, sounded “hypocritical”, said Naoyuki Yamagishi, the climate change programme leader for the World Wide Fund for Nature in Japan.
“Saudi Arabia has been considered as one of the blockers of the negotiations in many ways,” he said. Compared with Saudi Arabia’s aggressive negotiating tactics, the UAE was less vocal, Mr Yamagishi said.
Ms el Hatow agreed, saying: “The UAE has not been as vocal in the negotiations. Usually Saudi Arabia takes the bullet on behalf of oil states.”
However, she saw some difference between the two states, a point supported by Ms Luomi.
“Although the UAE is clearly taking steps towards a genuinely more constructive position, it cannot and does not want to put itself on a collision course with Saudi Arabia because of the two countries’ shared interests and border,” she said.