Asia-Pacific, Climate Change, Environment, Headlines

ENVIRONMENT DAY: Fuel-Rich UAE Sends Green Signals

Meena S Janardhan

DUBAI, Jun 5 2006 (IPS) - Despite producing nearly 2.5 million barrels of crude oil a day in a region that contributes about 30 per cent of the world’s oil output and controls nearly 40 per cent of proven gas resources, the United Arab Emirates is determined to take giant strides on the path towards sustainable development.

Earlier this year UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced the creation of a new Ministry for Environment and Water. This follows the country’s signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 2005 and the setting of targets for progressively cutting carbon emissions, as well as investigating new ways to cut down on and dispose of all greenhouse gases.

The new ministry, announced in February, follows a recent United Nations Environment Programme report, ‘Global Environment Outlook 2006’, warning that climate change could hike temperatures and lead to more extreme climatic events in the Middle East.

The report says “careful planning” is needed to prevent the region’s rapid development from harming the environment, adding that the area’s per capita emissions of carbon dioxide – the main gas responsible for global warming – rose by 22 per cent between 1990 and 2002.

“Leaders of the Gulf states need to improve public transport and switch to renewable sources of energy. This region is especially suited to focus on solar energy as a way of reducing dependence on fossil fuels, Ebrahim Abdul Jalil of the Arabian Gulf University told journalists when the report was released.

Some positive steps have already been taken, says Frederic Muller, manager of a solar technology company here. “Realising the potential of solar energy in the UAE, which receives more than 300 days of sunshine a year, the government and private sector have already adopted several solar technologies in parking meters – a cheaper option than underground connections à remote telecommunications installations and solar water heating systems in some hotels.”

Even among fossil fuels, the country is now turning towards gas for power generation and other sectors as it is a cleaner more environment-friendly option than oil. Gas consumption in the Arab world was set to overtake oil demand in 2005.

According to another report published by the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, the bulk of demand growth will be recorded in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other countries with relatively high energy consumption and steady industrial growth.

The report forecasts that the share of gas in the Arab energy market will rise from 48.9 percent in 2005 to 53.3 percent in 2015, overtaking the share of oil, which will decline from 47.4 percent to 42.8 percent.

In one of the first moves from oil to gas, eco-friendly cars will soon ply the roads of Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, two of the seven emirates that make up the country. After conversion, the cars will run on natural gas, which will benefit consumers as well as the environment since drivers will pay only four dirhams (about one U.S. dollar) for a gallon. Petrol now costs around seven dirhams per gallon.

“Natural gas vehicles do not give off carbon emissions and are at least 30 per cent more economical than petrol vehicles,” said a Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) official, adding that most SEWA vehicles will be converted to use this eco-friendly fuel.

SEWA already supplies natural gas to 80 per cent of all residential, industrial and commercial areas in Sharjah.

According to Rajan Pillai, a car mechanic in Sharjah, “We get many enquiries about the required conversion, which takes about three hours. However, owners do realise that vehicles run on natural gas cannot give the same bursts of speed as petrol-driven engines.”

State-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) has plans to initially set up four natural gas filling stations in Sharjah and six in the capital Abu Dhabi. “Some taxis in Abu Dhabi are already running on natural gas and more will follow,” said an Adnoc official.

The technical committee formed by the government to ensure that clean compressed natural gas (CNG) is used as an alternative fuel in the emirate has announced that 20 per cent of vehicles in Abu Dhabi will have to switch to CNG by 2012.

Globally, the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – contribute about 2.4 per cent of world carbon dioxide emissions while their population is just 0.5 per cent of the Earth’s, according to a 2005 World Bank study.

The UAE’s sulphur dioxide levels were below World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines in recent monitoring but levels of nitrogen oxide were in violation. In Dubai particularly, nitrogen oxide, ozone and particle matter were found to be above the guidelines at many monitoring stations.

The sharp rise in energy and fossil fuel use in the Gulf states is put down to rapid economic growth, extreme climatic conditions that necessitate widespread use of air-conditioning and the need for desalination plants to produce fresh water.

The government has launched another major green project: the Al Masdar Initiative, which aims to create world-class renewable energy and resource industries in the capital Abu Dhabi.

The initiative will be based on four elements: an innovation centre to support the demonstration, commercialisation and adoption of sustainable energy technologies; a university offering specialist graduate programs in renewable energy and sustainability; a development company focused on commercialising emissions reduction solutions, and a special economic zone tailored to hosting institutions that will invest in development and production of renewable energy technologies and products, said a spokesman.

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