Climate Change Dynamics and Energy Consumption in UAE: History
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The implications of climate change on building energy use may be both short-term and long-term. The short-term impacts involve extreme environmental calamities, while the long-term impacts include rising sea levels due to outdoor temperature increases.

  • climate change
  • energy consumption
  • hot urban desert climate
  • adaptation measures

1. Introduction

The potential risks that climate change and global warming pose to people and ecosystems have garnered increasing attention throughout the last several decades. The increased atmosphere temperatures, the subsequent ocean warming and extensive melting of the polar caps, and the resulting rise in sea and ocean levels verify the implications of climate change [1]. One of the most notable implications is extreme outdoor heatwaves caused by increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which result in a significant increase in building energy demands [2]. Reports suggest that the building and construction sector accounts for about 36% of the final energy use, while accounting for 39% of energy-related GHG emissions [3]. Clearly, the built environment is susceptible to climate change.
The impact of changing climatic conditions on the built environment is rather complex and intertwined. Potential implications on the built environment include impacts on building structures, building construction performance, building materials’ life cycles, and building energy consumption [4]. Characterized by extreme hot climates and fossil fuel dependency, the Middle East Gulf states—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—are more at risk from the implications of climate change on energy consumption [2]. Previous studies show a reciprocal relationship, focusing on the climate change–energy use nexus in the buildings. Under these climates, gradual changes in weather patterns significantly influence the built environment’s energy consumption and associated energy systems [5,6]. Moreover, experimental studies conducted on existing building stock in these regions indicate promising results, with a potential reduction of up to 35% in GHG emissions and energy savings reaching as high as 42% [7]. Consequently, studies show that climate change has extremely important consequences for the construction industry, which has the largest adaptability capacity among other sectors [8].
The implications of climate change on building energy use may be both short-term and long-term. The short-term impacts involve extreme environmental calamities, while the long-term impacts include rising sea levels due to outdoor temperature increases [9]. Considering the UAE’s geographic location on the Middle Eastern Peninsula, the long-term impacts of frequent and long-duration heat waves pose a higher regional risk level [1]. Within the building sector, the outdoor temperature in summer months reach over 40 °C, while the indoor temperatures remain within the range of 18–20 °C in these Gulf states. Accounting for this substantial difference in the indoor thermal comfort and outdoor temperatures, the cooling energy demand occupies a large share of the energy end-uses. Furthermore, studies imply that the cooling system’s energy usage accounts for 80% of the overall energy consumption in buildings [10]. It is worth noting that these states are facing occasional grid burnouts and power outages due to current climatic circumstances, demonstrating their ever-increasing difficulties to satisfy their energy demands throughout the summer months [9]. Within the context of climate change-driven heat waves, the future implications of such events may be more frequent over longer durations. Furthermore, these climate change-driven energy stresses will have environmental, social, and economic impacts [11].
The National Climate Action Plan 2050 predicts an increase in annual mean air temperature from 4.1 to 5.3 °C by 2100 for the UAE, with negligible decreases in the humidity and global solar radiation levels. Indeed, the combined effect of high outdoor temperatures with high solar radiation and humidity levels poses significant challenges in achieving low energy demands. With a shift in the local and global efforts towards low energy or green building credentials in the UAE, Shanks and Nezamifar [12] highlight the ineffectiveness of the existing building stock to purposefully minimize the extreme effects of climate change. When aiming towards sustainable development, along with local climatic changes, it is necessary to evaluate how climate change affects the cooling energy demand in existing building typologies. This will not only help in identifying the adaptation measures needed, but also enhance the building’s resilience toward future climate change and an increased cooling energy demand [13,14]. One of the key climate change action priority objectives includes promoting climate resilience by minimizing the risks and increasing the mitigation and adaptation strategies. Hence, strategies to mitigate and adapt the built environment may be considered as a viable opportunity to address the implications of climate change [15].
The UAE is considered as one of the Gulf states to be exposed to climate change’s consequences; however, it is often treated unjustly in energy-efficient policies [2]. This may be attributed to the fact that the government’s efforts in crafting policies and strategies that promote energy efficiency in the building sector lack strength in their inception phase. Supporting this, the World Economic Forum analysed the risks associated with a persistent increase in the cooling energy demand with an overall growth in energy consumption [16]. As the world struggles to reduce this risk, lessons may be gleaned from the Paris Climate Agreement, which was agreed at the 2015 COP21 in Paris. Signatories are committed to adopting and implementing the ‘national climate action plans’ to meet the global warming target of 1.5 °C while attaining carbon neutrality by 2050. One of the key climate priority objectives includes promoting climate resilience by minimizing the risks and increasing climate adaptation strategies. For instance, the UAE has committed to meeting the climate and clean energy targets by 2050. These strategies aim at improving the total energy mix by up to 50% while reducing the carbon footprint by 70%, with simultaneous savings of AED 700 billion by 2050 [17]. Further, the climate action policies in the UAE intend to generate 24% of electricity from clean energy sources, thereby reducing its GHG emissions by 23.5% in 2030. Therefore, improving energy efficiency through proper adaptation measures is critical to meeting the problem of energy sustainability. Nonetheless, the climate action tracker classifies the UAE as “highly insufficient” in implementing climate action plans.
Nakicenovic et al. [3] and Guan [18] reviewed the energy implications of climate change on buildings categorized by the diversity in the methodological approaches. Further, detailed discussions by Li et al. [19], and Yassaghi & Hoque [20] debated the performances, responses, and uncertainties with minimal examination of the adaptation strategies or associated policies. Recently, a meta-analysis was presented by Campagna & Fiorito [21] on the energy consumption variations due to the diversity of input variables throughout all continents. In addition to the above reviews, previous studies on this topic reveal that differences in the predicted energy demand or projected future scenarios exist among studies due to variations in the geographic contexts or investigated climate zones [22]. Although these are affected by climate changes, further uncertainties are also observed due to building typologies, methodological approaches, energy model predictions, and input variables that significantly affect energy predictions [23]. Now considering the geographic contexts and climate zones, most of the studies addressed all climate zones. In contrast, certain studies limited their discussion to selected zones based on criteria such as developing countries [6] or specific continents (such as the European Union, and Australia) [18]. Furthermore, these constraints limit the comparison of findings.

2. Climate Change Dynamics and Energy Consumption in the UAE

2.1. Geography and Climate Zones

The UAE (23.4241° N, 53.8478° E) is in the southwest part of the Asian continent, oriented towards the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula. Represented as a triangular region, UAE borders the Arabian Gulf waters in the north and northwest, with eastern coastline extensions with the Gulf of Oman. Geographically, the region shares land borders with Saudi Arabia along the south and sea borders with the Sultanate of Oman towards the southeast. The UAE’s total land surface may be characterized under four main climate zones as identified by M. Sherif et al. [25]: “east coast”; “mountains”; “gravel plain”, and “desert foreland”.
The hot desert climate characterizes the UAE region as having two seasons: winter and summer [26]. Winter exists between October and March with average temperatures of about 26˚C during the daytime and 15˚C during the nighttime, considered as generally warm and dry. However, cooler weather conditions exist due to the eastern mountains of Al Hajar, where the average temperatures drop to a minimum of 10 °C through 14 °C in January through February. On the other hand, summers stretch from April to September with an average temperature of 48 °C and relative humidity as high as 90% in the coastal cities. The southern desert regions experience even higher temperatures of nearly 50 °C with very low humidity [27,28]. Considering precipitation, rainfall is generally scarce and much of it occurs during the winter months of February through March with an average annual precipitation measure of 140–200 mm per year [29]. During the summer months, very low rain gauge measures are observed along the coasts, while higher rainfall is received in the mountainous and southeastern parts of the country [27]. Sometimes, years pass by without any rainfall [30].

2.2. Potential Effects of Climate Change in the UAE

The UAE currently has a population of 9,5 million people. Approximately 83% of the UAE’s population and 90% of its infrastructure are located within a few meters of low-lying coastlines [30]. This rapid expansion in population was followed by an increase in energy use (10,133 KWh per capita, particularly for air conditioning in the summer), resulting in greater GHG emissions (27.14 kt/capita) [31]. In 2011, the UAE was rated 14th among the 21 nations with the highest consumption per capita in the world.
The UAE has been classified as one of the most susceptible countries to climate change, with considerable impact on the country’s infrastructure, natural environment, and population health [32]. These effects are massive on energy generation, water, and natural resources, influencing a wide range of development sectors, policies, and the environment. Furthermore, the economic boom and population expansion have resulted in increasing demand for energy generation, thereby contributing to GHG emissions and climate change [33]. Hence, climate change is already having an impact on the UAE’s coastal and geographical areas, projected to cause warmer weather, less precipitation, droughts, and rising sea levels.
The UAE is not immune to climate change and high carbon emissions, with predictions of a 2–3 °C increase in temperature and a 10% increase in humidity by 2050 [32]. As a result, energy consumption will rise by 11%, with the electricity necessary to supply this demand equalling the output of 18 solar power plants. Furthermore, the area will face the danger of longer droughts as well as more intense and varied rainfall events, increasing the likelihood of desertification and floods [32] (see Table 1).
Table 1. Climate change and related factors relevant to UAE, source: [32].
Climate change will cause the sea level to increase by 0.18 to 0.23 cm per year, endangering coastal regions in all the emirates, particularly those located one kilometre or less from the coast, where more than 17,000 people live [33]. Furthermore, Dubai and Ajman will be the most vulnerable emirates due to rising sea levels; it is projected that 75% of Ajman’s and 36% of Dubai’s coastline regions will be highly exposed areas due to their economies’ reliance on coastal developments [33]. This rise in sea level will cause more tides, waves, and storms to hit land, increasing the risk of floods, erosion, and groundwater quality degradation.
Due to its proximity to the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, the UAE is also subject to increased seawater temperatures, by which the seawater absorbs most of the excess heat from greenhouse gas emissions, leading to rising seawater temperatures [27]. As a result, marine species and ecosystems suffer, resulting in greater coral bleaching, algal blooms, and species migration [30].

This entry is adapted from the peer-reviewed paper 10.3390/buildings14010013

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