Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is becoming a global challenge. Except for a small minority, more and more scientists and politicians are coming to understand that for our planet to survive and maintain an acceptable climate, it is necessary to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to zero. In his book How We Avoid A Climate Disaster, Bill Gates argues that it is necessary not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but to get rid of them completely.

The UAE has set a target date for 2050. This date was also set by a number of other countries, such as the USA, Norway, UK, EU and others. China set this goal 10 years later, in 2060. The idea that an OPEC member and one of the leaders in the export of oil and gas would proclaim such a goal, until recently looked unrealistic. However, the mindset of the UAE government can be safely called the “entrepreneurial mindset”. And therefore, the Emirates always strives to implement the most advanced solutions.

Current situation

Despite the large share of hydrocarbons in the country's economy, the UAE has a number of advantages over other countries while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The structure of emissions in the UAE is relatively simple, in contrast to the USA, China and Europe, with their large territories, varied climates and differentiated agriculture.

Taking Abu Dhabi as an example, about 27 percent of greenhouse gases come from electricity generation, 22 percent from the oil industry, 25 percent from other industries, 17 percent from transportation, 7 percent from waste, and 2 percent from agriculture.

The UAE has excellent prospects for the development of solar energy. There is a lot of solar energy, it is available throughout the country almost all year round. There is no need to provide long-term storage of energy, there are enough batteries that provide energy storage during the night.

Thus, electricity can be completely cleaned by a combination of new solar and nuclear installations, batteries and gas-fired power plants equipped with carbon capture and storage systems or adapted to burn hydrogen. This clean electricity can then be used to power battery-powered cars, subways, and rail systems. Electricity also powers new reverse osmosis desalination plants that are more efficient and flexible than thermal methods.

In shipping, you can count on the use of hydrogen-based synthetic fuels. The most challenging sector is long-haul aviation, as the UAE is a global hub for air travel. Again, hydrogen is likely the answer, as Airbus hopes the hydrogen aircraft will be used commercially by 2035.

Development outlooks

A clear path to zero emissions offers three great opportunities for the country. First, it is about protecting the environment and global reputation. It will also save on energy waste. An emission reduction strategy can open up a range of opportunities for local businesses that go global: energy efficiency and smart buildings, architecture and agriculture for hot and arid climates, local solar installations, and more.

Secondly, to become a center for the production of low-carbon goods for the whole world. The energy-intensive aluminum industry is already concentrated in regions with low electricity prices such as the Persian Gulf, Iceland and Siberia, as well as in China with heavy coal. The UAE can replicate this with low carbon emissions, using abundant cheap solar power and carbon capture gas to produce not only aluminum, but also steel and chemicals.

The third possibility is to make the UAE a place for carbon capture and storage. Well-known geology offers huge rock formations several kilometers underground that can safely store carbon dioxide for centuries. In addition to capturing its own emissions, the country can offer services to other countries such as Japan or South Korea. And most exciting is the ability to extract CO2 directly from the atmosphere, offsetting residual emissions and reversing the effects of two centuries of global burning of fossil fuels. Of course, there is still a long way to go in the development of technologies in order to use them economically. But “the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step,” and the UAE has already taken this step.