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COP28 UAE: Climate Action Beyond Construction and Machinery

8 December, 2023
By Al Marwan
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COP28 UAE: Climate Action Beyond Construction and Machinery

COP28 UAE has taken center stage in Dubai, with the eyes of government officials, corporate decision-makers, and professionals everywhere anticipating its outcomes. Marking the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties since its inception in 1995, COP28 symbolizes a united front against climate change, under the banner of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This year, the focus sharpens on assessing global efforts to curtail emissions, aiming to limit the temperature increase to 1.5º C per the Paris Agreement. With the participation of 197 countries and over 70,000 individuals and organizations, the event, hosted at the Dubai Expo City from November 30th to December 12th, 2023, promises to be more than just a conference. It's a crucible where the future of our planet's climate action is being forged. The first two days, dedicated to the World Climate Summit, set the stage for discussions that will echo beyond the walls of the conference rooms, impacting lives and industries worldwide.

The Economic and Human Cost of Climate Change: A Call for NET-Zero

The threat of climate change looms large over our global economy and the well-being of populations worldwide. A stark warning from recent reports says that ignoring climate change could lead to a catastrophic $178 trillion loss by 2070, slashing the global economy by 8%. This economic downturn would be accompanied by profound environmental and societal impacts: the desertification of fertile lands, soaring food prices, rising sea levels engulfing cities, and a resulting destabilization of societies and the global economy.

Conversely, confronting climate change head-on offers not just a mitigation of these dire consequences but also a substantial economic benefit. Proactive measures could yield a gain of $43 trillion, translating to a 4% boost in the global economy by 2070. The urgency of this situation is further underscored by the plight of food security. By 2020, climate change had already put 770 million people, predominantly in Africa and Asia, at risk of famine, threatening global food and nutrition security.

In response to these challenges, COP28 UAE champions the concept of NET-Zero; which was first introduced in COP21 per the Paris Agreement of 2015– in a strategy to drastically reduce carbon emissions, aiming for a balance where the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted is equal to the amount removed from the atmosphere.

Al Dhafra solar power plant in Abu Dhabi as part of UAE 2050 NET-Zero Strategy - image courtesy of The National
Al Dhafra solar power plant in Abu Dhabi as part of UAE 2050 NET-Zero Strategy - image courtesy of The National

This approach includes reabsorbing residual emissions through natural means such as forests and oceans. A significant commitment at COP28 sees 20 major oil and gas companies pledging to adopt NET-Zero practices by 2050. Additionally, a target has been set to add 440 megawatts of renewable energy capacity by the end of 2023, which is expected to lead to a threefold increase in global renewable energy capacity, reaching 11,000 megawatts by 2030. These initiatives are projected to support 85% of global economies and contribute to a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030, marking a decisive step in the battle against climate change.

Navigating the Hurdles to Carbon Neutrality

The journey to carbon neutrality is faced with significant challenges, each a critical piece in the puzzle of global climate change. Among these is the loss of forests, which are vital carbon sinks that play a crucial role in regulating the Earth's atmosphere. This is compounded by the increasing scarcity of rainfall and rising sea levels, both direct consequences of a warming planet. These natural phenomena have far-reaching implications, affecting ecosystems, cities, and global weather patterns.

Equally pressing is the challenge posed by heightened industrial activity, a major contributor to the surge in greenhouse gasses and carbon emissions. A breakdown of carbon emission sources reveals that 74% of these emissions stem from the energy sector. Agriculture follows with a 12% contribution, next is the digital and tech sector with 6.2%, while healthcare and waste management account for 4.6% and 3.3%, respectively.

74% of carbon emissions stem from the energy sector - image courtesy of Carbonfund
A reported 74% of carbon emissions stem from the energy sector - image courtesy of Carbonfund

COP28 UAE places a spotlight on the G20 countries, which are collectively responsible for 75% of the world’s carbon emissions. This group is pivotal in the global effort to combat climate change. Their role in reducing emissions and driving sustainable practices is critical to achieving the goals set forth by COP28 and ensuring a sustainable future for our planet.

Water Scarcity, Security, and the UAE's Proactive Measures

One of the most pressing issues magnified by climate change is water scarcity, a challenge that already affects over 25 countries globally. As climate change continues to disrupt weather patterns, the demand for water is projected to surge by 20-25% by 2050, aligning with a significant decrease in annual rainfall levels of 90-120 mm. This scarcity is particularly acute in the GCC countries, which are among the 17 nations most severely impacted by water shortages.

The UAE is taking proactive measures to address this critical challenge. The country operates 70 main desalination plants, which play a vital role in its water supply strategy. These plants are not only crucial for meeting the nation's water needs but also stand as examples of sustainable practices, reducing energy consumption by 75% and carbon emissions by an impressive 96%.

DEWA seawater desalination plant as part of UAE 2036 Water Security Strategy - image courtesy of Arabian Business
DEWA seawater desalination plant as part of UAE 2036 Water Security Strategy - image courtesy of Arabian Business

Looking towards the future, the UAE has developed an ambitious water security strategy for 2036. This comprehensive plan aims to decrease the demand on water resources by 21%, while also enhancing water production efficiency, with a target of reducing water scarcity indicators by three points. A key component of this strategy is the increased use of recycled water, aiming for a 95% reuse rate. Additionally, the strategy includes provisions for maintaining up to two days' worth of water in storage for regular use, ensuring a resilient and sustainable water allocation system.

UAE's Pioneering Role in Climate Action at COP28

The UAE is demonstrating remarkable leadership in the global fight against climate change this year at COP28. This commitment is highlighted by the UAE's strategic initiative to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, positioning it as the first country in the MENA region to set such an ambitious goal. The initiative outlines a roadmap to reduce carbon emissions in electricity production by 70%, invest AED 600 billion in clean energy, and enhance consumption efficiency by up to 40%, along with a 50% increase in contributions to clean energy.

UAE demonstrates remarkable leadership in the global fight against climate change this year at COP28 - image courtesy of New Scientist
UAE leads the global fight against climate change this year at COP28 - image courtesy of New Scientist

In the first five days of COP28, the UAE's dedication to climate action was further underscored by its pledge of 50% of the total bids aimed at mitigating climate change effects. The country's total commitment includes 57 bids, with significant contributions such as a $30 million climate fund and an additional $100 million fund dedicated to addressing damage and loss from climate change. These contributions form a part of a larger collective effort from all parties at COP28, with pledges amassing to notable amounts*, including:

  • $625 million for a global climate fund,
  • $3.5 billion towards a green fund,
  • $1.2 billion for response, recovery, and peacemaking efforts,
  • $2.5 billion dedicated to a renewable energy fund,
  • $568 million in incentives for clean energy investments,
  • $1.6 billion for efforts to mitigate methane emissions,
  • $467 million in national climate action initiatives,
  • $206 million for natural preservation,
  • $2.6 billion towards the development of agriculture and nutrition systems,
  • $150 million in water security, and
  • $2.7 billion for healthcare-related climate actions.
*As of December 5th reports on COP28 bids.

 

What Does COP28 UAE Mean for the Construction Industry?

COP28 brings to the forefront a critical theme for the construction sector: "Multilevel Action: Urbanization, and Built Environment and Transport." This focus highlights the significant role buildings play in climate change, responsible for 37% of energy-related carbon emissions and 34% of final energy use. The construction sector, therefore, stands at a crossroads, with its policies having the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an impressive 80-90%, while simultaneously elevating up to 2.8 billion people out of energy poverty. Additionally, the sector holds a substantial portion of global employment, accounting for 7% of world employment, equaling over 200 million jobs and contributing to 13% of global GDP, as reported by the IPCC.

The concept of green buildings is gaining traction as a key solution in this sector. These sustainable structures offer a massive low-carbon investment opportunity in emerging markets, estimated at $24.7 trillion by 2030. Their impact on climate action is multifaceted, encompassing the design, construction, maintenance, and use of buildings in a climate-impacted future. The push for energy-efficient designs, including green urban spaces, solar-integrated rooftops, and rainwater harvesting, is more crucial than ever. Moreover, retrofitting existing buildings is vital, considering that most structures standing in 2050 have already been built.

Al Bahr Towers of Abu Dhabi as part of UAE's green building efforts - image courtesy of The Architects' Journal
Al Bahr Towers of Abu Dhabi as part of UAE's green building efforts - image courtesy of The Architects' Journal

An innovative approach within this sector is the concept of a carbon budget for development projects. Similar to financial scrutiny, this would involve a detailed accounting of a project's carbon footprint, influencing decision-making from the outset. The World Green Building Council notes that currently, buildings are responsible for 39% of global energy-related carbon emissions, split between 28% from operational emissions (such as heating, cooling, and powering buildings) and 11% from materials extraction and construction.

The Role Heavy Equipment Play in Climate Change

While COP28 UAE may not explicitly focus on the role heavy equipment plays in climate change mitigation, the significance of this industry cannot be overlooked, especially in the context of the mining and construction sector. OEMs are at the forefront of this challenge, actively innovating to offer machinery solutions that align with sustainable practices. These efforts are instrumental in aiding businesses to transition towards a circular economy, showcasing a commitment to environmental consciousness and sustainability.

Fully electric Volvo TA15 automated guided vehicle - image courtesy of International Mining
Fully electric Volvo TA15 automated guided vehicle - image courtesy of International Mining

Electrification of equipment represents a major leap forward in reducing the industry's reliance on fossil fuels. Advanced cooling systems and machines designed to minimize fuel consumption are becoming increasingly prevalent. The introduction of battery-powered automated, guided vehicles (AGVs) on worksites is a testament to this shift, showcasing how clean energy can be effectively integrated into heavy machinery while also reducing labor demands.

Prominent machinery manufacturers like Volvo and Komatsu are leading by example with their forays into fully-electric excavators, loaders, and trucks. A notable example is Volvo's TA15, part of the TARA series, which has garnered the RED-DOT design award in 2020. This fully-electric truck exemplifies the industry's commitment to clean energy and reduced CO2 emissions. Despite the ongoing reliance on diesel-powered equipment, there is a growing trend among manufacturers to produce machines that have minimal environmental impact, adhering to stringent EPA emissions standards.

KOBELCO SK55 mini excavators equipped with the advanced iNDr engine cooling system
KOBELCO SK55 mini excavators equipped with the advanced iNDr engine cooling system

Fuel economy is also gaining focus. Brands like KOBELCO are developing mini, medium, and large excavators that boast lower fuel consumption averages compared to their counterparts. Innovations such as KOBELCO's iNDr engine cooling system in their mini excavator line are significant. This system not only reduces noise and fuel consumption but also lessens the mechanical strain on engines, reflecting a holistic approach to environmental sustainability in heavy machinery design.

How Can Heavy Equipment Managers Achieve Carbon Neutrality?

There are four steps that heavy equipment companies and fleet managers can take to achieve carbon neutrality, or take part in the action towards reducing their machinery’s carbon emissions, and they are:

1. Tracking CO₂ Emissions

Consider using telematics systems like Hiboo, which provides a sophisticated approach to track CO₂ emissions from heavy machinery. This system calculates emissions based on fuel consumption, incorporating factors like the type of fuel used and its associated CO₂ equivalent. For example, emissions are calculated by multiplying the amount of fuel consumed with the emission factor of the specific fuel type, whether it's off-road diesel, petrol-ethanol, or others.

Hiboo provides a sophisticated approach to track CO₂ emissions from heavy machinery
Hiboo provides a sophisticated approach to track CO₂ emissions from heavy machinery

As one of the largest heavy equipment rental companies in the UAE, Al Marwan Heavy Machinery utilizes advanced telematics systems that provide actionable insights into their equipment's carbon footprint in real-time. This valuable information allows project managers to better allocate their carbon budget, and find ways to reduce and balance these emissions across the entire fleet.

2. Investing in Young Machinery

Generally, newer models and builds of heavy equipment come with advanced engine configurations that meet EPA regulations for emissions standards. This is also the case because newer machines tend to emit lesser exhaust fumes, being that their engines and exhaust systems are still in pristine condition. This improves air quality and promotes a healthier work environment for construction workers.

New KOBELCO and Dynapac machines tend to emit lesser exhaust fumes
New KOBELCO and Dynapac machines tend to emit lesser exhaust fumes

3. Taking Advantage of Fuel-Efficient Machinery

More and more OEMs are pushing products with advanced energy systems that lets operators choose between low and high power output. This returns dividends in the long run in terms of costs incurred for fuel.

4. Embracing Digital Transformation

Heavy equipment companies are rapidly advancing digitally to support carbon neutrality goals. By integrating IoT, cloud computing, and AI, these systems streamline operations, slash inefficiencies, and cut down on paper reliance. Digitalization optimizes maintenance, improves inventory management, and allows for remote equipment monitoring and operation. This shift not only lowers carbon emissions by reducing travel and paper usage but also boosts operational efficiency and precision.

While efforts to produce electric-powered equipment are on the rise as of recent years, most of these equipment are smaller, and less productive in terms of size, output, and capacity than their diesel-powered counterparts.

As COP28 UAE champions the battle against climate change, it sets a new paradigm for industries globally. This transformative event highlights the urgency for sustainable practices in construction and heavy equipment sectors, inspiring a collective shift towards greener solutions. The commitment to a sustainable future is clear – it's about safeguarding our planet for the generations to come. Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates and to stay at the forefront of new industry trends.

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