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‘Buildings and cities have a pivotal role in tackling climate change’

Saeed Al Abbar, Chairman of Emirates Green Building Council (EmiratesGBC), shares with Fatima de la Cerna of Climate Control Middle East details of his experience at COP 21, as a member of the UAE delegation, as well as his thoughts on the country’s efforts to reduce emissions and fight climate change.

| | May 2, 2016 | 2:23 pm
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Saeed Al abbar cropped.pngCould you describe your experience and participation at the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21)? What were your expectations going in, and were those expectations met? What were the standout moments for you?

Last year, I had the privilege to attend the COP 21 Climate Change Summit in Paris as part of the UAE delegation. It was clear from the series of meetings and workshops at the conference that buildings and cities have a pivotal role in tackling climate change. We, as EmiratesGBC, look forward to continuing to play an active role in supporting the UAE in its climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies as the historic Paris agreement, which seeks to keep global warming ‘well below’ two degrees C, takes effect.

Early in November, EmiratesGBC submitted its pledge to the WorldGBC as part of its #betterbuildgreen campaign, which focuses on the UN climate change negotiations. The campaign highlights WorldGBC’s global collective commitment for COP 21 and national commitments from Green Building Councils, which were unveiled at Buildings Day.

In addition, EmiratesGBC launched its own campaign to encourage its members to submit their own pledges to support the UAE government strategies and goals for national development within the UAE vision 2021, the ‘Green Growth Strategy’ and the UAE’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) submission to COP 21 to increase clean energy to 24% of the total energy mix by 2021.

What is your assessment of the UAE’s INDC, particularly the commitment it has made to limit emissions from its building sector and to further implement efficiency standards for air conditioning units and other appliances? In your opinion, are the pledges and proposed action plans indicated in the INDC enough to bring about a reduction in the country’s greenhouse gas emissions? And how feasible would it be to turn those plans and pledges into actual, concrete projects and initiatives?

The UAE has launched a process to develop a full national inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, which will give a good indication on the progress

The UAE submitted its INDC to limit its emissions in line with Vision 2021 and ‘Green Growth Strategy’, which sets the roadmap for economic growth and social development rooted in sustainable initiatives. The UAE will pursue a portfolio of actions, including the aforesaid increase in clean energy.

Vision 2021 is also complemented by the National Innovation Strategy, which aims to place innovation, science and technology at the centre of a knowledge-based, highly productive and competitive economy. In addition, Abu Dhabi’s Economic Vision 2030, as well as Dubai’s Plan 2021 and the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy 2030 are leading the country’s efforts towards economic diversification and sustainable development in their respective emirates.

Besides the clean energy target and energy and water strategies, the UAE’s INDC holistically addresses sustainability in terms of strategies on transportation, infrastructure, waste management and food security.

It is important to note that the UAE’s INDC is supported by monitoring, reporting and verification procedures to ensure the targets are achieved. Moreover, the UAE has launched a process to develop a full national inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, which will give a good indication on the progress.

The INDC highlights the importance of Green Building regulations and efficiency standards. It also acknowledges the impact that air conditioning has on the UAE’s energy consumption levels, and even mentions how the country has eliminated “the lowest-performing 20% of units on the market”. However, there is no mention of refrigerants – an issue that other countries are paying close attention to. Japan, for instance, (in its INDC) talks about introducing refrigerant control technology for F-gases. Do you see the UAE taking a direction on refrigerants in line with its pledge to help combat global warming? And, in your opinion, is the local HVAC industry prepared to comply with international regulations, particularly those concerning the phasing down or phasing out of certain refrigerants?

The UAE is placing strong efforts in terms of HVAC technologies. The country is putting comprehensive infrastructure investments to move towards District Cooling and to improve efficiency, as compared to decentralised cooling.

In Abu Dhabi, the ADQCC have a certification scheme for air- and water-cooled chillers, which must demonstrate compliance with minimum efficiency requirements. Additionally, the requirements demonstrate that the refrigerant(s) used by the product(s) applying for certification have an ozone depletion potential (ODP) of zero in accordance with the Estidama Building Rating System. This proves that the local HVAC industry is well-prepared for the phasing down of certain refrigerants that have a negative impact on the environment.

Judging from our conversations with different players in the HVACR industry, many don’t seem to be aware of the significance of the COP 21 agreement, with some even expressing complete lack of knowledge of what transpired in Paris. Do you see this lack of awareness becoming a serious obstacle in bringing to fruition the commitments the country has made in the fight against global warming? What do you propose the industry do to address this challenge?

Countries who submitted their INDC are committed to achieve these goals. From our side, we have committed to work closely with the UAE’s government entities as a key partner in the development and implementation of sustainable building initiatives and support for regulations. We will also accelerate the adoption of best practices by sharing best practice in sustainable buildings and acting as a focal point between industry, academia and government.

We have also invited our corporate members and partners to make their ‘Climate Pledge’, which will take the form of targets and associated action plans. We will support them in achieving these commitments by measuring and verifying their pledges.

COP 21 has been proclaimed a success by many; however, there are also those who are in disagreement, with some academics and scientists calling the agreement “weak” and “flawed”. Could you share your reaction to the agreement? Do you agree with those who herald it as a “landmark deal”? Or do you share the doubts of its critics?

In our opinion, participants of the 21st Session of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties, or COP 21, reached a landmark agreement on December 12, 2015 in Paris, projecting a new course in the two-decade old global climate effort. For the first time, all parties must report on a regular basis on their emissions and implementation efforts, and undergo international review, which will make a huge difference.

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