When you think about Dubai, you probably imagine a city with extremely hot summers and barely any rain.
It would be quite hard to imagine that in a few years, Dubai could be underwater because of the effects of climate change, right? Unfortunately, it’s a real possibility!
So, let’s take a closer look at the effects of climate change on the city.
The Effect of Climate Change on Dubai
Climate change will affect Dubai in the areas of utilities, infrastructure, biodiversity, health and wellbeing, and the economy.
According to a report by The Swiftest, Dubai is listed as one of the 36 cities in the world that would go underwater first if sea levels rise to 1.5 meters.
In fact, the UAE is among those countries with the highest rate of vulnerability when it comes to the potential impacts of climate change, and these effects could be devastating.
The Impact of Climate Change on Utilities
Dubai is located on the coast of the Persian Gulf in the Eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula.
This location has been an advantage to the city because while it’s in a desert area, being near the coastline has allowed the city to be a major fishing, trading and transportation hub for many years.
But Dubai is also a very dry area that experiences little rainfall throughout the year and very extreme temperatures during the summer.
Over the years, studies have shown that temperatures in the UAE have increased to around 0.5 to 1 degree Celsius above the 1986-2005 average due to global warming.
If this continues to happen, one of the biggest impacts would be on the city’s demand for utilities, especially in its energy and water consumption.
One of the biggest impacts of climate change to utilities is the supply and demand gap in electricity because of the increasing demand for electricity and reduced power generation capabilities of plants:
- A hotter Dubai will mean an increase in energy demand due to the need for more cooling. In fact, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) already reports a 28% increase in energy demand in the city.
With air conditioning taking up one of the biggest allocations for electricity loads in Dubai and the UAE, climate change will surely rack up the demand for electricity over the next few years.
- Increasing temperatures due to climate change will reduce the efficiency of gas-fired power plant facilities, which could also mean a reduction in power output that would make resources scarce.
If this happens, outages can be expected around the country, which will also affect the quality of living of residents, especially during the hot summer months when there’s a higher demand for energy.
- Rising sea levels could cause more active storm activities and unpredictable weather conditions that may result in flooding in coastal power generation stations in the event of a storm surge.
- Renewable energy sources in Dubai and the UAE may also be affected by climate change. For instance, solar panels are sensitive to very high temperatures and dust, which may reduce their efficiency.
- Extreme heat has a negative effect on transmission lines, cables and transformers. Climate change may reduce their capacities resulting in electricity losses along the transmission system and frequent damage that could lead to disruptions in supply.
Dubai and the rest of the UAE have three primary sources of water: groundwater, treated wastewater and desalinated water.
Groundwater has been used for both domestic and agricultural consumption in Dubai for many years.
Falaj or man made canals are still used today to help with irrigation while rainwater harvesting dams help with groundwater recharging.
On the other hand, treated wastewater are used for other needs like garden irrigation and landscaping in residential areas around the city.
But with climate change, temperatures will be extremely high causing a depletion in these water resources and a reduction in groundwater recharge.
It also creates a gap between the supply and demand of water in the city resulting in scarcity:
- With the city’s progress, the demand for more water supply has also increased and desalination plants have compensated for it.
The bad news is, these plants require high amounts of energy from power plants. Treatment chemicals and brine that are used during the desalination process are also being released into the Arabian Gulf, and high amounts of these chemicals could be detrimental to the city’s marine ecosystem.
- Climate change will make the Arabian Gulf more saline, which means that there will be an increase in the demand for energy used in the water desalination process.
This will also result in an increase in the environmental and economic costs of running desalination plants.
Desalination supply may also be affected by extreme weather events like heavy storms that are caused by climate change.
The Impact of Climate Change to Infrastructure
Dubai is one of the major transportation and logistics hubs in the UAE and Middle Eastern region servicing the areas of freight forwarding, transportation, warehousing and value added logistics.
However, climate change could mean extreme weather conditions and other hazards that affect the efficiency of the transportation and logistics sector:
- Global warming is expected to cause extreme rainfall resulting in flooding. This could cause damage to transport infrastructure and disrupt operations.
- Extreme temperatures due to climate change could also cause significant damage to roads and runways. In turn, there will be delays in deliveries that could be detrimental to the transportation and logistics sector in the long run.
The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity
Although it’s located in the desert, Dubai has one of the best ecosystems in the UAE. It also boasts of a 72-kilometer long coastline and a rich marine life.
However, climate change could have a huge impact on the city’s biodiversity that’s already under extreme heat stress.
The Arabian Gulf is home to some of the best marine species in the world including the famous hawksbill turtle and Pacific humpback dolphin, all of which are already feeling the effects of global warming.
- When the sea surface becomes warmer and water depths change, it affects the growth of marine flora and fauna. If this happens, marine life will also be affected with the disruption of their habitats.
- Changes in water temperature also means added stress to coral reefs. In fact, there has been evidence of coral bleaching and algal blooms across the UAE.
- A rise in sea levels could be a threat to the thousands of mangroves not only in Dubai but also the rest of the UAE’s coastlines. These mangrove forests offer a safe haven for many fish species where they can rest, feed and nest.
Mangroves need stable sea levels if they are to survive for a long time. But with climate change, rising sea levels could be detrimental to these forests.
Climate change will not only affect marine life but also those in the drylands. The deserts of Dubai are home to some of the most diverse populations of birds and animals in the world.
But climate change puts these species at risk mainly because of the very extreme temperatures.
Even animals that are used to the desert including the Arabian Oryx and camels could be in danger.
The Impact of Climate Change on Health and Wellbeing
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), climate change is the biggest threat to global health in the 21st century.
In fact, the effects of climate change have already claimed the lives of thousands of people from around the world due to diseases related to extreme weather events and pollution.
Dubai is not exempted from these public health problems and unfortunately, things could get worse as food, drinking water, shelter and air are affected by climate change.
As we see more of the effects of climate change, these problems related to health and wellbeing are also becoming more evident:
- Heat stress is one of the major health concerns related to global warming, especially in Dubai where temperatures are already high because of its location.
When the body is put under extreme heat, it could affect the body’s ability to make sweat evaporate, which could intensify heat stress.
Although this can be addressed easily in healthy individuals, those with pre-existing medical conditions could be at risk for cardiovascular diseases, stroke and respiratory problems.
Most people also adapt to extreme heat by increasing their use of air conditioning units. Unfortunately, this increases emissions that makes climate change worse.
- Climate change leads to health-related consequences that in turn, result in huge productivity losses.
In fact, a report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) states that productivity losses could reach $2 trillion by 2030.
- Extreme heat makes air pollution worse and increases the risk for different respiratory problems.
In Dubai, climate change can also mean severe dust storms and droughts that increase the concentration of pollutants that reduce the city’s air quality.
- Highly infectious diseases have been linked to extreme temperatures. Malaria, for instance, thrives under extreme heat and humidity, which could lead to an increase in cases.
Climate change also results in extreme weather events that may cause high mortality rates.
The Impact of Climate Change on the Economy
Climate change will have a huge impact on Dubai and the rest of the UAE’s economy, especially in some of its most important sectors:
Oil and Gas
Although Dubai is becoming less dependent on its oil and gas industry, its assets still play an important role in the country’s economy.
But with global warming, increased temperatures, extreme weather events and rising sea levels, there could be damages to the city’s oil and gas facilities.
Rising temperatures also affect the efficiency of Liquified Natural Gas facilities, which depletes the city’s fuel supply.
Construction and Real Estate
Dubai has become a megacity within just a few years, and it continues to grow today.
In fact, coastal urbanization is a huge trend in the city where you’ll see a lot of developments in coastal areas. Dubai is also known for creating man made islands like Palm Jumeirah.
However, climate change will have a huge impact on construction and real estate in Dubai.
- Construction projects have a high demand for energy and water supply. With scarce resources, the city’s energy and water budget could be compromised.
- Research suggests that sea levels could rise by up to a meter by 2100. If this happens, flooding, storm surges and increasing sea levels could put coastal developments at risk for damages and even casualties.
- As climate change gets worse, the urban island heat effect where temperatures become higher even at night will be felt more around the city.
- Extreme heat may also affect the completion time of construction projects since workers can’t spend extended hours outdoors or they’d be at risk for heat-related illnesses.
Tourism and Hospitality
Dubai is one of the top tourist destinations in the Middle East attracting more than 11 million tourists in the first 7 months of 2023.
However, studies suggest that most tourists consider weather conditions when deciding on a travel destination.
With climate change increasing the temperatures in the city, there could be a shift in tourist visits over the next few years.
Unpredictable weather conditions could also disrupt business operations and affect the experience of travelers during their holiday.
These effects could increase tourist-related services due to factors like energy consumption and cooling demands.
Although not directly, climate change also affects the city and the country’s economy due to all the disruptions, damages and other effects in the business sector.
The effects of climate change can also change the city’s investment landscape with more investors becoming more cautious on where they put their money.
Climate change also puts a strain on the city’s healthcare system due to more heat-related illnesses and other health conditions that require medical attention.