Home » COP28 Perspective: UAE’s Green Pathways to Net-Zero Emissions and Beyond

COP28 Perspective: UAE’s Green Pathways to Net-Zero Emissions and Beyond

by Mohammad Ghazal

There is no clear-cut pathway to net-zero emissions. As nations possess distinctive strengths and face unique challenges, no two decarbonisation strategies are identical. Yet, if all signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agree on one crucial prerequisite to net-zero emissions, it is biological carbon sequestration — the storage of atmospheric carbon in vegetation, soils, and aquatic bodies. Today, in the run-up to the UAE-hosted COP28, as climate change nears the tipping point, the case for the creation of such woodland ecosystems is quite strong.

The UAE’s National Carbon Sequestration Project, aimed at planting 100 million mangroves across the country by 2030, is a notable initiative in this regard. While plant species are generally capable of sequestering carbon, mangroves can capture at a higher rate, besides supporting marine biodiversity. Globally, mangroves account for approximately 1% of the world’s tropical forests but contribute 14% to carbon sequestration. About 80% of the fish catches are directly or indirectly dependent on mangroves.

In other words, with the sequestration project, the UAE is not only emphasising climate actions but also hoping to simultaneously create conditions to support biodiversity and food security — a “systems thinking” approach to solving a problem by understanding its many moving parts. Such an approach must be implemented in non-coastal areas, too, through nature-based solutions. The bottomline is to restore/develop natural ecosystems with sequestration-efficient plants and set up mechanisms to periodically measure and report the impact.

The feasibility of green pathways

Thus far, however, large-scale sequestration initiatives have been largely limited to the coastal areas due to their lack of feasibility inland. The arid/semi-arid climate, high soil salinity, desert soil, moisture evaporation, excessive seepage, and, most importantly, limited freshwater resources have rendered tree planting futile in non-coastal areas. Attempts at afforestation have largely come at the expense of disproportionately high water consumption to relative yield. So, owing to existing acute water scarcity, biological carbon sequestration through tree planting in non-coastal areas has been deemed unsustainable.

Such notions are now being contested following the emergence of Breathable Sand, a water-retentive and air-permeable medium that leads to optimal plant yield with 80% less water input. In application, the medium allows an optimal supply of nutrients to the roots while retaining water for an extended period of time without letting it seep through. Following promising results across the country, Breathable Sand is now being used for an ambitious carbon sequestration drive called ‘Ghaba’. Middle East’s first VERRA-listed project, ‘Ghaba’ aims to plant 11 million trees across the region, including in the UAE, adhering to the CDM methodology of measuring sequestration and selecting plant species.

Implications of green pathways for the UAE’s sustainability

In the UAE, the possibility of turning barren desert areas into arable lands has robust implications for sustainability. As the country is 80% desert, there is wide scope for tree planting and preservation/restoration of natural ecosystems. Strategic selection of plant species, in the framework of food security, can reduce the UAE’s dependence on imports for 80-90% of its dietary requirements. Policymakers, in conjunction with the private sector, especially “agripreneurs”, can develop symbiotic and regenerative ecosystems such as food forests and agroforests, which can provide multi-fold value by supporting biodiversity, soil-based sequestration, and agricultural produce.

In fact, agriculture is the biggest beneficiary of solutions like Breathable Sand. The agri sector has an outsised carbon footprint — both operational and embodied. In the UAE, the sector accounts for over 60% of the total freshwater consumption while only contributing a mere 15-20% to food production. The excessive irrigation is being supported by carbon- and energy-intensive desalination plants, which are counterproductive to long-term net-zero and sustainability goals. Under that scenario, water-efficient agriculture can reduce the dependence on such processes and, by extension, control emissions.

That is to say, the green pathways to Net-zero 2050 can help the UAE safeguard its other, equally critical long-term interests, such as water and food security. However, natural ecosystems require considerable time to develop and yield measurable results. So, the sooner they are pursued, the better. That, in turn, underscores the need for multistakeholder participation: Favourable policies and incentives from governing bodies and CSR efforts and technological solutions from the private sector. The upcoming COP28 and the spotlight it brings constitute an opportune moment to mobilise all parties and explore the green route to long-term goals. Sometimes, taking the road less travelled can make all the difference.

Chandra Dake is the Executive Chairman and Group CEO of the Dake Group, and an advocate of innovation and sustainability, with a focus on food security and water conservation.

You may also like  | About Us | Careers | Privacy & Policy

 © 2024 ESG Mena