UAE Enters COP28 Leadership With National Air Quality Agenda

by CCAC Secretariat - 4 October, 2023
The UAE's air quality agenda incorporates a wide range of considerations to mitigate air pollution.

The host of this year’s COP 28 conference and CCAC Board member The United Arab Emirates (UAE), has become a vocal advocate for action on air quality as a complement to climate action. Air quality has been an environmental priority for the UAE since 2013, when the UAE Vision 2021 plan was launched.  
Data collection and air quality monitoring began with the launch of UAE Vision 2021 and was expanded to inform the targets contained within the UAE’s National Air Quality Agenda 2031 (NAQA). NAQA is the guiding framework for indoor and outdoor air pollution, as well as noise pollution and ambient odours. In addition, the first UAE National Air Emissions Inventory, completed in 2019, provided valuable information about the sources of different key outdoor air pollutants in the UAE.  
The NAQA comes at an important moment for the region, as countries in West Asia recently recommended the establishment of a Regional Air Quality Network for West Asia. As a first step, the United Nations Environment Programme has been asked to assess the status of air quality management and work priorities.  
The NAQA pointed to a number of priority work areas for the UAE, including the need for economic evaluation of the impact of air quality on public health, the need for an early warning system to reduce public exposure, and the need to standardise and harmonise air quality monitoring and modelling standards. 

One major challenge for the UAE revealed by the NAQA was that over 50% of particulate matter in the UAE comes from natural sources. Many of these sources derive from outside the UAE, but impact the country through windblown dust and regular dust storms. Despite being unable to control these single-handedly, the UAE has implemented domestic policies to control dust through landscape management practices which limit and absorb the impact of dust pollution in the air, said Aisha Mohamed Abdullah Al Abdooli Director of Green Development & Environment Affairs Department at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. 
Under existing UAE regulations ground level ozone was identified the main polluter reaching above target levels under existing targets. At ground level, ozone is a potent pollutant damaging human and plant health. Around 50% of ozone is caused by the presence of methane in the local atmosphere – which escapes from oil and gas infrastructure globally. The UAE is also committed to reducing emissions from gas flaring. Between From 1995 and 2010, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) reduced gas flaring by up to 78 percent. It now has a zero-[routine] flaring as a strategic objective. Reducing methane emissions and ground-level ozone will not only contribute to better health outcomes, but also the UAE’s greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets. 

The NAQA also prioritises key programs to reduce emissions from the waste sector, transport sector, and construction sector. While the NAQA is under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, it was developed in consultation with stakeholders across all ministries, local environmental authorities, the Green Growth Institute, and CCAC experts, to take into account existing air quality actions, and reduce the burden of new regulations on future planning. Funding for the actions required under the NAQA has thus been allocated as the responsibility of each appropriate entity to comply with.  

“Considered one of the greatest environmental risks to health, ambient air pollution has been an area of concern across the globe for many years…For this reason, the UAE has placed significant priority and strategic focus on improving air quality and decreasing the concentration of air pollutants nationally, with intent to supporting our collective good and bettering health and environmental sustainability for us all.”
Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment.  

The NAQA’s focus on indoor air pollution is another standout feature of the UAE’s attention to the topic. As a country where people spend larger than average percentage of time in indoor environments, particularly in the summer months, indoor air quality, is of heightened importance for the UAE. Regulating air quality in private spaces presents many challenges, however the UAE has identified a pathway towards better indoor air quality through two main activities. The first is regulating industrial production, imports, and the construction industry to reduce the presence of air polluting compounds in products and buildings. The second is through increased public awareness campaigns around the importance of indoor air quality.  

Work already begun under the NAQA includes a project to monitor particulate matter and pinpoint sources of pollution; developing the Emirati Air Quality Index which provides recommendations to prevent the health impacts of air pollution; and producing a second air quality inventory, which highlights progress in reducing pollutant emissions in sectors such as energy and transport. The UAE has also been active in sharing the lessons of the experience of the NAQA in regional forums including the Gulf Cooperation Council, and within the CCAC’s Methane Roadmap Action Plan initiative. 

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