The UAE has become the first OPEC member and Gulf state to officially associate itself with the Copenhagen Accord, the general agreement on climate change reached at international talks in December.
In a letter last week to the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the UAE became the 99th country to recognise the accord and called for any new international treaty on climate change to limit economic impacts on oil producers and support carbon capture technology and nuclear energy.
The move solidified the UAE’s position as the regional leader in pushing for reductions to carbon emissions, said one expert, and contrasted markedly with Kuwait, which last month became one of four countries to officially reject association with the accord.
“The UAE strongly supports the concept of equitable and co-ordinated international action to mitigate climate change,” Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said in the letter.
“The UAE views the Copenhagen Accord as a political agreement and an important step towards an international legally binding treaty.”
The accord was a last-minute agreement between the US, Europe and major developing countries at the Copenhagen climate talks that recognised the need for deep emissions cuts to limit global warming, but set no specific requirements on individual countries.
The UNFCCC, which makes decisions on a consensus basis, did not formally adopt the agreement because of objections from several countries, but set up a system for each state to recognise the agreement and pledge voluntary emissions cuts on a database on the group’s website.
Supporters of the accord have described it as a less than perfect first step towards a global climate change treaty, while critics have savaged it as an abject failure.
Five Arab states – Jordan, Morocco, Djibouti, Mauritania and Tunisia – have already associated themselves with the accord, but the UAE is the first major oil producer that stands to lose revenues if the world moves aggressively away from fossil fuels, said Mari Luomi, a Gulf climate change policy expert at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki.
“The UAE association sets the country apart as a bold example, and is a positive example of consistent international level action to match the ambitious developments at the domestic level in the area of climate change mitigation,” she said.
Dr Gargash’s letter noted that any future treaty should encourage emissions reductions from all countries, but impose different requirements depending on the country’s level of economic development.
Negotiators call it the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”.
The letter emphasised that a new international treaty to reduce emissions should take pains to limit the economic impact on fossil fuel-exporting countries, in one of the UAE’s first official comments on the matter.
“International action to mitigate climate change should minimise the adverse effects on international trade and social, environmental and economic impacts on other parties,” Dr Gargash said.
“This includes the effects of response measures on countries highly dependent on hydrocarbon revenues.”
The International Energy Agency, a Paris-based group of energy consuming nations, has said that a global effort to limit the warming of the planet to 2°Celsius would cost OPEC producers US$4 trillion (Dh14.69tn) in lost oil export revenues by 2030.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and OPEC officials have all called for oil exporters to be compensated for lost revenues, but the proposals gained little traction at the Copenhagen negotiations.
Dr Gargash also renewed a call for the UN to make available “market mechanisms” to support carbon capture and storage, a technology to divert carbon emissions from smokestacks to permanent underground storage.
And for the first time, the UAE also called for financial support for nuclear energy as an alternative to burning fossil fuels.
Abu Dhabi is investing heavily in both technologies and UAE officials have lobbied for funding for carbon capture at climate talks in recent years.
The UAE has not yet offered the UNFCCC a detailed plan on how it will reduce the growth of emissions. The Abu Dhabi Government, for one, has set a goal of generating 7 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2020, and government officials have said that the emirate’s carbon capture projects and nuclear reactors will count as part of its effort to slow emissions.
The UAE’s move to associate itself with the accord was highlighted on Wednesday night in a speech by Dr Sultan al Jaber, the chief executive of Masdar, the clean energy firm, and the new Assistant Foreign Minister and Special Envoy on Energy and Climate Change.
Dr al Jaber was appointed earlier this month and will lead a newly created Directorate of Energy and Climate Change within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A formal announcement on the new office is expected next week.