Our Perspectives

Decarbonizing development


The Union Cement Company plant in United Arab Emirates uses a waste heat recovery system to generate 82 MWh of zero-emission electricity per year. UNDP photo

In this blog series, UNDP experts share their perspectives on issues related to the COP22 climate summit, held in November in Marrakech, Morocco.

The Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force this month, following its rapid ratification by countries around the world. The Agreement has the goal of keeping global temperatures below a 2 degree Celsius rise relative to pre-industrial levels. This would avoid the worst effects of climate change, as rising greenhouse gas emissions jeopardize achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, threatening to exacerbate disasters, poverty and inequality the world over.

The latest Assessment Report (AR5) issued by the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights that to keep the planet within the 2 degree Celsius target, we must cut global emissions in half by 2050 and achieve zero net emissions by 2100. This entails a major change of course, with new zero-carbon models of development a key part of the action agenda. Energy consumption accounts for two-thirds of global emissions, so the goal of decarbonizing development hinges on reducing the energy intensity of growth, especially in countries with high carbon footprints.

Morocco, host of the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) to the UN climate change convention, is emerging as a leader in climate action. This year it launched the first phase of its Noor solar power plant. When fully operational this will be the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) facility.

We’re also seeing growing ambition in other parts of the Arab world, a region with the world’s highest levels of solar radiation. To date there has been limited capacity to convert this natural wealth into development dividends, but this is now starting to change.

Developed by UNDP and the Regional Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, the 2016 Arab Future Energy Index (AFEX) was launched at COP22 and is the first Arab index dedicated to monitoring and analyzing sustainable energy competitiveness in the region. The index tracks progress across 20 indicators, ranking countries in the region on their low carbon, sustainable energy goals, and providing recommendations for actions that further scale-up results.

Important progress is seen across the region, even in the high-income countries of the Arab Gulf. In a corner of the globe long known as the world’s oil capital and host to high per-capita carbon footprints, a new vision for climate action is emerging. The Gulf now has one of the world’s fastest growth rates for local energy consumption. With most electricity generation from oil burning power plants, by 2030 more than US$300 billion of export revenues could be foregone as oil is increasingly diverted for local power generation. This calls into question the future of the oil-export based model of development.

With growing recognition of the social, economic and environmental risks from an over-reliance on oil, countries are now embracing the opportunities that arise from sustainable energy as a new high-tech, innovation sector. Saudi Arabia and UAE for example ratified the Paris Agreement in advance of COP22 and made low-carbon economy pathways a core feature of their national climate plans, or NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions), for implementing the Agreement

In high-income, high-carbon economies such as those in the Gulf, UNDP focuses its support on providing policy support to reinvent development pathways for a low-carbon trajectory. For instance, we’re helping to establish new sustainable energy centres of excellence in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. These centres help advance local policies to expand investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and reduce the carbon footprint of development.

In Saudi Arabia UNDP helped establish the Saudi Energy Efficiency Center, now a leading institution in the Kingdom for action on low-carbon, sustainable energy solutions. The $35 million National Energy Efficiency Programme in Saudi Arabia is one of UNDP’s largest sustainable energy projects globally. Through it we help establish the national centre and develop its capacity to design new laws and regulations, generate action plans to reduce the energy intensity of growth in key economic sectors, bring together innovative public-private partnerships, and raise awareness among leaders and the general public on the development benefits of low-carbon solutions.

In neighbouring UAE, a new World Green Economy Organization (WGEO) is being established in Dubai by local partners. Through a new $11 million initiative with WGEO, UNDP will help the new international organization emerge in coming years as a source of South-South cooperation for green, low-carbon development across the South. WGEO will seek out new solutions on issues like low-carbon cities and the energy-water nexus and serve as a catalyst for the role of UAE as a new global partner for sustainable development.

In past decades, the Arab region made use of its oil wealth to achieve rapid progress on human development indicators, through expanded infrastructure and access to health and education. But as leaders look to 2030 and a future beyond oil, sustainable energy solutions are quickly moving up the policy agenda. With its focus on bottom-up solutions, the Paris Agreement on climate change can be a force for change, fuelling a shift in development thinking and local actions in support of a zero-carbon pathway.

Kishan Khoday Blog post Climate change and disaster risk reduction Climate change Energy Sustainable development Environment Arab states blog series

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