Over the course of seven years (2010-2017), the UAE showed the world just how dedicated it is to a sustainable world. Two years ago, it was named as one of the fastest developers in renewable energy, having developed the sector quite densely throughout the stated period and even more so in the two years since then.
The Gulf nation has been expanding this sector in incredible ways, lowering its dependency on fossil fuels while moving towards more environmentally friendly sources of power. Just last year, Abu Dhabi officially opened the world's largest independent solar power plant for commercial use. It was no surprise considering the UAE aims to produce 24 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2021. It's developing other similar parks such as the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park. The latter is set to be completed by 2030 with the aim of powering as many as 1.3 million homes, reducing carbon emissions by 6.5 million tonnes annually.
Countries around the world have been using technology - from solar panels to wind turbines - to harness natural resources including wind, water, and sunlight. These resources are transformed into useful energy that can power electricity and purify water.
You might be wondering what this introduction has to do with the title of the article. Well, the introduction of electric cars into a society can play a vital role in the fight against global warming.
While greenhouse gas emissions don't directly come from electric vehicles, they do run on electricity, which is still produced from fossil fuels in many parts of the world. But if the UAE produces a portion of its energy from renewable sources (and it's already going in that direction), then adding electric cars to the equation will reduce the country's carbon footprint, even if it's just minimal.
As countries decarbonize electricity generation, driving emissions will potentially fall in the best-case scenario. It's true that in manufacturing the vehicle, the battery specifically, energy is consumed. Around half of the emissions from battery production come from the electricity used in manufacturing and assembling the batteries, according to Carbon Brief. But if those batteries are made in factories powered by renewable energy, then that's a major plus as the battery emissions will be slashed substantially.
According to an analysis by Carbon Brief, electric vehicles in Europe, for example, have shown to release lower emissions over their lifetime than conventional cars, so moving in that direction seems to be the right move.
And the UAE has been doing that already.
In recent years, several electric vehicles have been unveiled in Dubai because electricity does seem to be the most efficient "fuel" for transport. (Fun fact: The Dubai Metro is an electric-powered train.) If the electricity is generated from a non-fossil fuel source, then it's guaranteed to be the cleanest type of fuel to go from one destination to another. This explains why there will be a first of its kind electric ambulance operating during the upcoming Expo 2020. The vehicles have a semi-solar powered system that recharges the battery, so at least the harm on the environment has been reduced.
Dubai is one of the only cities in the region working on making its roads viable for e-cars, even if there's still quite a lot to be done. In 2017, Dubai Police added an electric car to its fleet - the BMW i3 - whose power-train is fully electric. The car was put on display during an event in the city's financial district where the country's Energy Minister emphasized the government's plans with regards to sustainability. Suhail Al-Mazrouei said the UAE aims to have electric cars make up 10 percent of all government vehicles.
The fact that Tesla opened its first Middle Eastern showroom in Dubai, with over 200 charging stations installed across different parts of the UAE, is in itself telling. That year, the firm's chief executive Elon Musk said the company planned to invest millions in the UAE on "electric car" infrastructure including recharging stations.
The UAE - which has one of the highest carbon footprints in the world - aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 70 percent, increase clean energy use by 50 percent, and improve energy efficiency by 40 percent by the middle of the century ... all by 2050. So it at least deserves some credit for its efforts.
If Dubai can commit to having 75 percent of its energy come from clean sources by 2050, it would have the smallest carbon footprint in the world.
The UAE is testing out different things to ensure a sustainable future. A small solar-powered settlement lies just kilometers away from Dubai's city center aiming to become a "green oasis in the desert."
That so-called Sustainable City, a private settlement, is designed to use as little energy and water as possible, generating all the energy it needs from renewable sources on-site, according to Reuters. The settlement has been described as a "laboratory for testing future technologies and solutions," Karim El-Jisr, head of SEE Institute, the research arm of the city's developer, told Reuters.
Diamond Developers' Sustainable City aims to produce more energy than it consumes; cars are banned in most neighborhoods, residents must drive electric cars or take horse-drawn buggies to move around, and all homes have solar panels installed on their roofs. Cooking oil was used to fuel the construction of new buildings in the city. The Sustainable City (TSC) used B100 biodiesel to fuel the construction of a school that opened in January 2019 among other projects. Unlike conventional diesel, B100 biodiesel cuts harmful emissions such as carbon monoxide by 50 percent and leaves no toxic residues.
If such a city is sustainable in the desert, then it must be sustainable elsewhere. For now, it seems the UAE is doing everything it can to reach its goals sooner rather than later.