Custom «UAE Energy Policies: Threats and Proposed Directions» Sample Essay
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According to the generally accepted definition, energy is the power generated through the exploitation of sources like coal, oil, and natural gas, which is thereupon used for the operation of machines. Energy is closely interwoven with national politics, foreign policy, security, and economy. It is linked to geopolitics and foreign policy through energy security. Seeking to assure energy security, nations engage in negotiations, rivalries, and direct confrontations over the control of energy resources. To use a metaphor, trying to depoliticize the energy sector is tantamount to tilting at windmills. Horsnell (2001), for example, avers that even those countries that “have attempted in the past to depoliticize the energy market have in recent years gone through a retrenchment in policy” (p. 39). The connection between energy and political economy is even more straightforward. Indeed, it is a matter of conventional wisdom that global energy prices have a profound impact on the development of world economy. Proceeding from the assumption that energy policies are of top priority for developed nations, the current paper begins with the discussion of global problems related to energy security. It then segues into the analysis of energy problems that are specifically related to the UAE. Finally, the paper suggests amendments to the country’s energy policies to overhaul the problem areas in its energy sector. Given the UAE’s potential as an energy provider and its financial capabilities, the country should have no problems in borrowing the experience of the developed nations and accommodating it into its contexts.
Global Problems and Issues Related to Energy Security
The relationship between energy and globalization. Alfred Einstein posited famously that “energy cannot be created or destroyed” and can only transform from one form to another (cited in Struchtrup, 2014, p. 5). The postulate quickly earned the recognition of other physicists and it became known as Einstein’s first law of thermodynamics. The fact that the postulate became a physical law means that its exactness is undeniable. Yet, despite its aura of scientific rigorousness, the first law of thermodynamics is not, in fact, entirely trustworthy. Indeed, while there are many sources of energy on the planet, not all of them are renewable. In fact, at this juncture of history and for the past two centuries, the humanity has been increasingly harnessing non-renewable sources of energy. The exuberant economic growth that began during the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century led to an increase in the use of energy. By the mid-20th century, the growth of virtually every world economy depended heavily on the availability of energy resources and their prices. Relatively inexpensive energy derived from the ever-growing number of sources – coal, mineral oil, natural gas, and nuclear fission, among others – formed the backbone of world nations’ economic development. As a result, Crastan (2010) estimates, “the use of energy in industrialized societies increased by a factor of more than ten” in the 20th century (p. 50).
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As early as in the mid-20th century, American pundits had a dawning realization that the reliable energy mainstay of the 19h century became less guaranteed in the 20th century, as the country’s demand for energy outpaced its national production. The oil crises that pummeled the global economy in 1973 amplified this dawning realization not only in the United States but also abroad, making the international community scurry to find new sources of energy. Because of this shift, Tim Harford opines that the use of non-renewable energy for economic purposes began to decrease worldwide at about that time. Summarizing the findings of Harford, an anonymous journalist of The Economist explains:
US GDP growth per capita between 1986 and 2011 averaged 2.5%; energy use per capita fell to 0.17% a year over the same period. The same effect appears elsewhere. The peak of energy use per person in Britain occurred in 1973; in Germany, it was in 1979. (2013, p. 1)
However, even if levels of energy consumption fell below the peak in some developed states, they increased exponentially in the developing economies like China. This economic behemoth consumes nearly as much coal as the rest of the world, as of 2013 (see Appendix A). In other sectors of China’s economy, the situation is similar. According to Swartz and Oster (2010), China entered the latest decade as the world’s largest energy consumer, a milestone that reflects “China’s decades-long outburst of economic growth” (p. 1).
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There is no gainsaying the fact in the academic quarters that raw materials on the planet are finite. Hence, as ominous as it sounds, conventional energy resources are bound to end sometime in the not-so-distant future. Ngo and Natowitz (2016), for example, estimate that oil will disappear in the early 22nd century, followed by natural gas and coal one or two centuries later. Because the inexorable onslaught of globalization promotes economic activity and facilitates energy transportation, finite energy resources are depleting even faster.
Another concomitant problem associated with globalization and unrestrained use of fossil fuels is the environmental footprint of such activities. As a corollary of globalization, a greater number of industrial companies move their capacities to China, prompting it to consume even more energy and, therefore, contribute overwhelmingly to the buildup of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Some other economic behemoths almost keep abreast with China in terms of CO2 emissions, while many others are only somewhat better (Sandbrook & Guven, 2014; Hanefeld, 2015). Clearly, countries need to – and, sometimes, do – overhaul their energy policies to minimize the harm caused by their economic activities to the environment, which exceeds the limits of resource depletion.
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Energy and wars. It has historically transpired that energy has been a contentious issue in international affairs. Numerous countries become vulnerable energetically because they need energy resources for economic development and because their domestic production is insufficient to ensure sustainable development. In Europe, for example, a great number of the EU member-states and post-Soviet republics are dependent on natural gas supplies from Russia (Aalto, 2012). Post-Soviet states are particularly influenced by their energy dependence on Russia. Unable to diversify their energy delivery routes and to wean themselves of Russian supplies, they have limited foreign-policy choices.
What is more important, it has not been a rarity that energy dependence resulted in war. According to Schwab (2009), the Great Game for supremacy in Central Asia throughout the 19th century had clear undertones of an energy conflict. A more recent example of an energy war would be the Gulf War of 1990-1991 between Iraq, on the one hand, and Kuwait supported by an international coalition, on the other hand. One of the triggers that prompted Iraq to invade Kuwait was the latter’s exceeding OPEC-sanctioned oil production quotas (Schwab, 2009). There are also credible suspicions in academic circles that the U.S. involvement in the 1990-1991 Gulf War, the 2004 War in Iraq, as well as its operations in the Middle East was motivated by its energy interests (Schwab, 2009; Ngo & Natowitz, 2016; Kaim, 2016).
The realization that energy resources are finite breeds not only interstate tensions but also internecine strife within energy-rich, but politically fragile nations. One example was the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1970 when the belligerents engaged in violent hostilities over the control of oil facilities (DeRouen & Heo, 2007). Essentially, the control over oil-bearing regions and oil facilities was one of the paramount military objectives of both warring parties. The ongoing depredations of ISIS in Iraq and, separately, in Syria can also be regarded as an example of internal conflicts with clear undertones of energy war. Indeed, ISIS increasingly sells its ill-gotten oil to finance its war efforts against the infidel (Ryder, 2015). Importantly, nations around the world are not loath or remiss to purchase ill-gotten oil from the warring sides involved in the Syrian Civil War, just as they were not during the Nigerian Civil War.
Clearly, there are reasonable grounds to assert that energy dependence is always fraught with threats to national security of individual states and entire regions. Should a country be cut from energy supplies, its economic development would suffer. If the country relies too heavily on energy supplies of a particular supplier, its foreign policy choices could be limited. Energy-rich countries can be threatened, as well. If they are not strong politically, for instance, they could become battlegrounds for stronger energy-hungry nations. When energy resources reach the point of depletion, even greater chaos could occur.
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Problems and Issues That are Specifically Related to the UAE
Energy consumption in the UAE. The UAE is a country that has seen the remarkable transformation from a backward piscatorial community into a vibrant economic center in the last several decades. Composed mostly of barren deserts, the UAE does not have an unfathomable bounty of mineral resources under its terrain. Yet, one mineral is abundant in the UAE – oil. According to Speight (2014), the country has 97.8 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, which makes it the world’s seventh largest oil producing country. Likewise, the country has an estimated six trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves (see Appendix B), making it one of the gas production and transportation leaders in the world (Speight, 2014). Starting from the oil discovery in the late 1950s, the UAE has ridden rising energy prices to prosperity.
The overabundance of energy resources in the UAE has made the country not only the world’s greatest energy producer but also one of the world’s least energy-conscious oil gluttons. In 2014, for example, the UAE was the seventh largest consumer of energy per capita, far ahead of the United States and other economic superpowers (see Appendix C). As Topf (2014) states, “the UAE uses 481 tonnes of oil equivalent to produce $1 million of GDP, compared to Norway’s 172 tonnes” (p. 1). When all national energy use is divided among the populace, an average UAE citizen appears to consume approximately 8300 kilograms of oil equivalent per year (Speight, 2014). Clearly, the UAE’s energy intensity is not as worth envying as its energy reserves.
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Influence of population growth and economic development. Naturally, the discovery of oil and natural gas in the UAE gave a powerful impetus to a population explosion in the country. Indeed, the country’s population has grown from a paltry 70,000 in the early 1950s to one million in the 1980s and to about eight million at the present time (Woertz, 2013). Urbanization also stands at an impressive – or rather impressively alarming – level of 85% (Woertz, 2013). Importantly, the UAE citizens are not energy-conscious, and they unwittingly put a considerable strain on amenities. Maceda (2015) estimates that every citizen in the country consumes 740 cubic meters of water annually, which is nearly 50% higher than the global average. As the water desalination process is expensive, it accounts for nearly 30% of the country’s total power consumption (Maceda, 2015). Many industries in the UAE are similarly inefficient energetically. Likewise, the country diverts a great deal of energy to maintain some of its grandiose projects. For example, the Ski Dubai resort alone devours an equivalent of 3,500 barrels of oil daily (Topf, 2014).
Energy and climate change. The unbridled use of energy resources is positively correlated with climate change. Climate change jeopardizes, to a lesser or a greater degree, virtually every country in the world. At first sight, climate change does not affect energy resources in the UAE directly. Yet, it has a debilitating impact on the UAE’s water resources and coastal zones. As mentioned earlier in the text, much of the country’s power consumption is attributed to seawater desalination (Maceda, 2015). Were it not for climate change, the UAE would not have to divert so much of its energy resources to the production of fresh water. Hence, it could be said that climate change has an indirect impact on energy resources in the UAE. The country’s leadership recognizes the existence of this problem. Likewise, it recognizes its enormous environmental footprint. Indeed, the country burns substantial amounts of fossil fuels to sustain stable economic growth and fulfill the needs of its ever-growing population. Therefore, carbon dioxide emissions are also substantial in the UAE. According to Ozcevik, Brebbia, and Sener (2015), the UAE’s carbon dioxide emissions increased from 61 million tons in 1990 to 94 million tons in 2002, making it one of the world’s top emitters per capita. By the late 2000s, due to the measures that are discussed in the next section, the situation changed for the better, but only in terms of emissions per capita. The overall emission of greenhouse gasses in the UAE is alarming, standing at 200 million tons as of 2013 (Todorova, 2015).
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The UAE and energy dependence. Barring the inefficient energy consumption and its potential for complicating climate change, the UAE faces a few other energy challenges. Domestic production of oil and natural gas in the UAE is sufficient not only to support the country’s energy-dependent economy but also to sell the surplus to foreign partners. Yet, in the intricate world of economy, actions of states cannot be always explained with logic alone. Instead of using its resources for economic purposes, the UAE imports the bulk of the natural gas it consumes from the neighboring Qatar (Al-Faris & Soto, 2016). However, this should not be interpreted as meaning that the UAE is dependent on Qatar for its energy. In fact, the country has domestic capacities to supplant natural gas supplies from Qatar. The UAE administration harbored plans of importing some electricity from Iran, but the plans foundered and the UAE relies solely on the domestic production. Supplanting its imports of expertise and technologies required for the domestic production of nuclear power would be a more difficult task. The UAE is dependent on South Korea, the Unites States, and other foremost economies for expertise and technologies in developing its peaceful nuclear energy program. The country has not commissioned any nuclear power plant yet, but the first plant at Barakah is being completed at the moment (Amery, 2015). Other than that, the UAE is not dependent on other nations for its energy; therefore, it is not energetically vulnerable.
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Influence of energy problems on national security. Judging by the highest standards, the UAE is self-sufficient in terms of energy consumption. The vast energy resources lying under its terrain indicate that it can preserve this self-sufficiency for some time. On the other hand, the internal demand for energy is constantly surging in the country. Likewise, its conventional energy resources are finite in nature. To maintain its energy security, the country needs to tame the energy of the peaceful nuclear atom, the sun, the tide, and other renewable sources of power. It needs to act with dispatch if it does not want to become dependent on its neighbors or other energy exporters. Otherwise, it would diminish the UAE’s regional influence and, potentially, internal stability. Indeed, if the country resorts to foreign markets to meet its ever-growing energy demand, it may suffer from internal instability in these markets, which would be detrimental to its national security.
Proposed Policies for the UAE
Importantly, the UAE’s energy diversification policies are not limited to meaningless chatter, as it often happens in other countries. Although its conventional energy reserves are not facing a looming depletion the country is already thinking about the future. Currently, electricity generation in the UAE is based predominantly on natural gas. However, the country is committed to producing at least 25% of its electricity demand at nuclear power plants that are earmarked for completion by 2020 (Amery, 2015). Likewise, to staunch its ever-rising reliance on natural gas for the purposes of industrial use and, particularly, power generation, the UAE is tapping into other non-hydrocarbon based electricity generation methods. Nuclear energy apart, the UAE leaders deem solar power to be the most sustainable and efficient method. Currently, the country is overseeing the construction of a 100MW solar power park and several other smaller projects that would produce power at competitive prices (McAuley, 2016). The UAE expects to increase the share of solar power in its total energy consumption to 5% by 2030 (McAuley, 2016).
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Making recommendations for the UAE is a somewhat redundant task because the country has already planned many projects on its energy agenda. Wedded to the idea of increasing the share of renewable energy in the country’s overall energy consumption, the UAE has come to the epicenter of renewable energy efforts in the Middle East. In 2005, the UAE became one of the first major oil producers to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Moreover, it has undertaken a variety of ambitious and unprecedented projects. For example, the Masdar City, which is still being constructed, relies completely on solar power and energy from other renewable sources (Busch & Shrivastava, 2011). The city also hosts the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency.
However, despite its nuclear power and solar power programs, the UAE has largely failed to take advantage of other renewable energy options that are being developed across the world, but not for the lack of trying. For example, developing wind power projects in the UAE would be unproductive since the country lacks winds. Likewise, it cannot build sustainable hydropower stations due to the lack of hydro resources. The UAE has also made little progress in harnessing the geothermal energy of the earth. Yet, the first geothermal energy facility, which would drill for heat four kilometers below Abu Dhabi, is also being built (Shanton, 2009). Thus, there are ample grounds to say that the UAE is exploring – with greater or lesser success – all feasible renewable energy sources that make economic sense. Just a week ago, the UAE announced the construction of a facility that would convert waste to energy by 2020. The only recommendation – somewhat inconcrete, but nonetheless frank – that can be made in this context is for the UAE to adhere to its renewable energy plans.
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