The Year of Sustainability, Take Two
The announcement is made, 2024 will be marked as the Year of Sustainability in the UAE. While it feels like deja-vu following 2023’s Year of Sustainability, my hope is that we will be able to design changes that will make the country more energy efficient, more focused on reducing waste, and more ready to adapt to the idea that we can become a more circular economy.
The announcement let’s us move beyond COP28, which much of the government and private sector was preoccupied with, to both bring in new legislation to promote sustainability, and then make funding available for those who want to put that legislation into practice.
So, if anyone is asking what I’m hoping for, here is my wish list:
Smart, sustainable buildings
The construction and operation of the places where we live, shop and work are responsible for more carbon emissions than any other activity; forty percent, to be exact. We have to make our homes, malls, offices less carbon-intensive. That will require retrofitting older buildings, upgrading their insulation, windows and HVAC systems to improve energy efficiency. This isn’t just good for the environment, but also your pocket, with energy savings translating into lower running costs. New buildings should be designed with sustainability in mind, with materials that require less energy to produce and which can be more easily recycled.
Low-interest loans or grants should be made available for those wishing to retrofit their buildings, and utilities could step in to design long-term payment plans that factor in potential energy savings so that today’s cost will become tomorrow’s saving in a couple of years’ time.
The country has done remarkably well to promote cleaner mobility, with limited incentives. There are tens of thousands of electric vehicles on the road. Now, we need to help those who want to go electric but who cannot afford the upfront costs with new incentive programs. Chinese EVs will help increase the lower-cost options for potential EV owners. What would also be useful is financial rebates, possibly a VAT exemption as well as lower-cost electricity to power the vehicles (I’m delighted to see the investments in public chargers, which are very much needed given the increase of EV taxis). We should also mandate for company fleets to go electric. And, if the UAE wants to make a statement, it could be the first country in the region to declare that it will phase out petrol and diesel-powered vehicles by a defined date. Now, that would be a bold step, which would set the market for MENA to follow.
The country has invested heavily in renewables on a national level, for power generation. We need to help businesses and the public do the same. Imagine a city or country whose roofs are covered in solar panels, with battery systems to capture and store that energy at night. The UAE is blessed with sun pretty much all of the year. This could and should be our greatest energy source, and by funding the installation of rooftop panels, we would move the needle on our carbon reduction targets as well as pretty much every other part of the sustainability ecosystem. This renewable power source would run our homes and offices, it would power our cars, and excess energy could be sold back into the grid, like it is in Europe, America, and Asia, reducing the need for the state to invest in new power generation capacity. The UAE would not be the first to make rooftop solar mainstream (anyone who has flown into Amman will have seen the vast number of solar panels powering rooftop water heaters), but it can go farther than anyone else in making consumer and business renewables mainstream.
All of this will need both legislation and money to make it happen. New laws and policies will help to nudge those who may need convincing. Financing will support those who want to cut their energy usage, but don’t have the capital to pay for these initiatives. Either way, we will all benefit from a more sustainable country. Let’s make this second year of sustainability count, even more than the first.