| 27 September 2023, Wednesday |

‘Global boiling’ poses physical, mental & financial challenges to UAE residents

Residents in the UAE and the wider Middle East region are facing the physical, mental and financial repercussions of global warming, Al Arabiya English learned from experts and locals.

The UAE is among countries with the highest rate of vulnerability to impacts of global climate change, according to information furnished on the UAE government’s website. It predicts the possibility of warmer weather, less precipitation, droughts, higher sea levels and more storms as the mercury rises across the world.

On August 26, temperatures in Abu Dhabi crossed the 50-degree Celsius threshold, making it the highest recorded temperature locally in 2023. In addition to such unprecedented highs in temperature, the humidity in the country is also severely affecting the day-to-day life of residents and visitors, adding to the cost-of-living woes.

‘Overall cost of living has spiked’
“Dubai is painfully hot for most parts of the year. So, it definitely tends to affect my mood, finances and travel,” said Anamika Prem Kumar, who was born and raised in the Gulf state.

Kumar, who pays $9,530 (AED 35,000) per year by way of house rent for a studio apartment, lives in a place that is accessible by public transport. However, as temperatures keep rising every year, the 23-year-old told Al Arabiya English that it is becoming more difficult to use Dubai’s well-connected system by the day.

“I use public transport to go to work daily and then walk for about 15 minutes to reach office. During the summer, by the time I reach office, I am sweaty, out of breath and have to really force myself into being productive,” she said.

“As someone who has had a skin condition, I also have to be very careful about protecting myself against the heat,” she added.

She also highlighted the higher cost of living in Dubai, with its rising rents, requirement for air-conditioning round the clock, and heightened water consumption. “The overall cost of living here has spiked” by as much as 25 percent over a span of eight years, Kumar said.

The senior social media executive said she had to downsize to a studio apartment and cut back on all extracurricular activities to make up for increased spending under other heads.

Kumar has also replaced all indoor lights with low-energy alternatives and is more cautious about using high energy-consuming appliances, though she said it didn’t make much of a difference on her monthly electricity, water and gas bill that has increased from $109 (AED 400) four years ago to $164 (AED 600) now.

Despite the higher cost of living, Kumar said owning a car has been on her mind for some time now.

“I definitely am considering getting my license and eventually getting a car as I’ve been using public transport for almost 10 years now. The heat is the main factor here” making it difficult to use public transportation, she reasoned.

Mitigate and adapt
The warmer climate and unpredictable weather patterns are not exclusive to the UAE and the wider Middle East. In fact, the wildfires in Canada, floods in China and hurricanes in the US, have all been attributed to a hotter planet.

The freak weather patterns and the accompanying natural disasters around the world have been linked to the heat-trapping gases produced by human emissions, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels.

Despite pledges and calls for action from leaders to grassroot climate activists, not enough is being done to restrict global warming to under two-degree Celsius below pre-industrial level, which has already been extended from the initial 1.5-degree Celsius target, according to various reports.

It was enshrined in the Paris Agreement at the COP21 climate conference that despite the two degrees Celsius upper limit, it would increase the risks of extreme heat waves, droughts, water scarcity and extreme weather for a large portion of the Earth.

Various reports have found that the current country-level targets set by many nations are not contributory to the upper limit.

In the short term, researchers foresee unpredictable weather patterns like the 2022 floods in Fujairah, longer summers and accompanying heatwaves and humid conditions that can result in health issues.

“We tend to forget that we actually have the tools to reduce our emissions. We now have the science to know how to adapt to the impacts as well,” Moustafa Bayoumi, a Research Fellow at the UAE-based Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy, told Al Arabiya English.

“It’s mostly the action that is missing. And it’s not just one country per se, it requires a collaborative effort.”

Bayoumi said “there is no question that climate change is happening,” pointing at various reports, including a study-backed comment by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres that said the “era of global boiling has arrived.”

“There’s no room for discussion on whether it is happening or not, because we know for sure from the science that it is,” Bayoumi said, adding that the Middle East is “already warming at double the global rate.”

At the regional level, the rising heat will impact water availability, raise sea levels, cause longer droughts, create an aversion to using public transportation that leads to missing decarbonization targets, and generate unpredictable weather patterns, resulting in an overall decline in productivity.

At an individual level, heat-related injuries will climb for those working outdoors, mental health and wellbeing will be impacted for those compelled to stay in and financial expenses to insulate oneself from adverse weather conditions will mount, the Dubai-based research fellow who specializes in energy, climate change and sustainable development, further cautioned.

Every year, during peak summer-time, the UAE bans working directly under the sun and in open spaces from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. as per a Midday Break policy to protect blue-collar workers who toil under the harsh sunlight and near 50-degree centigrade temperatures atop skyscrapers and on the roads of the Gulf state. Employers must also provide parasols that protect workers from direct sunlight, shaded areas to rest during their break, and adequate cooling devices, such as fans, and drinking water.

Becoming aware of national spending patterns is essential to bringing positive change, Bayoumi said, pointing at the UAE’s mangrove project as an example.

The UAE aims to plant 100 million mangrove trees by 2030 according to a pledge made during COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh. Abu Dhabi and some of the northern emirates are already leading the way in achieving that target.

As for heat mitigation, Bayoumi called for more efficient architecture and harnessing the sun through rooftop solar setups that can benefit the environment and reduce expenses on electricity generation in the long run.

Regionally and globally, if no measures are taken to reduce rising temperatures, “it will become an alien planet for us,” Bayoumi warned. Comfortable sustenance will become “difficult and we will need to spend much more money on adaptation,” directly affecting the quality of life, he added.

Adapting proving costly
For some, adapting to the heat from longer summers and hotter winter months is already proving costly.

Noorul Iman Idris, a tri-city Gulf resident, has “given up” many quality-of-life spends and essential travel to make up for her increasing expenditure from the Middle East’s increasingly hotter climate.

The 24-year-old was raised in Riyadh, then Manama, and now lives in Dubai after completing her graduation in the UAE.

“I have seen an increase in the AC bill since I’m keeping the AC running throughout and I see an increase in my water usage because I now shower more often than usual,” Idris told Al Arabiya English, adding that the heat seems to be increasing every year.

In her new Dubai home, Idris spent up to $54.45 (AED 200) on her electricity, water and gas bill per month during the winter, which went up to $95 (AED 350) in the summer months in the UAE. In her Riyadh home, the cost of cooling her house has gone up from $40 (SAR 150) to $75 (SAR 280) per month.

The HR professional said she now thinks twice before stepping out due to the heat. Despite living in a bus-connected neighborhood, Idris, who used to solely rely on public transportation to get around, is now largely reliant on taxis, which have only added to her monthly expenses by as much as $680 (AED 2,500).

When asked whether she would buy a car despite the increased spending on other quality of life measures, Idris replied: “The Metro is always crowded during peak hours.” She added that the walk to the station from her workplace and changing modes of transport to reach home is becoming more tiresome by the day.

“A car would be the most viable option to escape the heat. My near-future plans do include buying or renting a car, but that will definitely be a big financial burden, considering that I’d end up paying almost 50 percent of my savings to buy and maintain it,” she added.

In addition to seeking greater comfort within her built environment, Idris is also seeing her meals take an inflationary turn.

A meal at a fast-food joint that cost $4.90 (AED 18) in 2018 now costs $8.17 (AED 30), she said.

Food prices across the world have jumped after the ecosystem was disrupted, first by sourcing and shipping issues during the 2020 COVID-19 crisis and then by the Russian war in Ukraine, compounded by environmental factors that are reducing yield across the board.

Idris now prepares home-cooked meals, has cut down on social gatherings at restaurants and reduced her expenses on mall visits by more than half to keep her monthly expenses under control.

Pointing at the wildfires in Spain, the flooding in Venice and the high energy bills in North America, Idris told Al Arabiya English that she was grateful to be able to live in a place where electricity, water and gas are subsidized, making it simpler to budget for months in advance and live in relative safety from natural phenomena.

However, she is most affected by the expenses brought on by global warming with her now less-than-frequent visits to her family homes in Riyadh and Manama.

“I have had to cut down on frequent visits to my family in Saudi Arabia. In the last few years, especially after the pandemic, the cost of flight tickets has also significantly risen,” she said.

For now, she hopes that Venice, her dream destination, does not sink before she gets a chance to visit. Various estimates give the bridge-connected group of islands in northeastern Italy just about 70 more years to stay above water.

Save money, be the change
Celebrity retail expert and founder of ‘Buy Smarter, Buy Greener,’ Kate Hardcastle, who divides her time between the UK and Dubai, where she is a prominent voice in sustainability, says the climate crisis and the rise in cost of living go hand in hand.

“With a rise in global average temperatures, which is far from slowing down, and worsening weather extremes, it’s harder than ever to ‘keep cool’ in the GCC,” she told Al Arabiya English. “More water consumption, further reliance on AC, all cost money.”

The knock-on effect is then seen in the stores and with service provision too, not just on energy bills, said Hardcastle.

“It’s not just the extra consumption that costs us more,” she explained. “Prices are rising alongside. When everything from the top of the supply chain down is costing more, that is always passed onto the end-user. When the whole food chain is affected, there are rises in costs; when fuel costs more, all forms of transportation costs will have to be factored in. There is next to nothing that isn’t affected by rising costs.”

Mirroring Bayoumi’s concern, Hardcastle also said the GCC region is ‘heating up’ at a much faster rate than other countries – up to twice as fast.

“In the UAE, it is estimated that the climate crisis costs £6 billion a year in higher health costs. The salinity of the Gulf, caused by proliferating desalination plants, has increased by 20 percent, with all the likely impact on marine life and biodiversity. Government policy shifts towards renewable energy plans and policies are most welcome and will see a big difference in the way we live and what we pay,” Hardcastle said.

She added: “A psychological shift away from consumerism is vital at the grassroots level towards the balance of this co-dependency. Yes, we can help the planet alongside helping ourselves.”

Climate change and the cost of living are inextricably linked globally, she said.

Hardcastle underscored the importance of understanding the complex relationship between climate change and cost of living, no matter where we live and operate, and the need to protect not only lifestyle factors but public health as well.

Irrespective of where people live or their monthly income, living alongside environmental challenges and climate change means that people owe it to themselves and future generations to take action now – not only for their wallets, but for the planet as well, Hardcastle said, adding that saving money needs to become a habit and is easier than many may think.

She asked: “Are you even aware of what you are using, energy-wise and where? The GCC climate makes AC and fuel a necessity, but do you really need the excessive use of water that we see across the Gulf, in keeping our cars and exteriors clean or overwatering outdoor green places? Have you studied your DEWA bill recently? A spike in bills could mean a leak, not just over-use.”

Hardcastle “while a rise in accommodation cost or school fees cannot be countered, the rest can be.”

“Re-evaluate your shopping habits today and take advantage of the cheapest options. Shopping daily for groceries is not sustainable – you will spend more for one, and often buy things you don’t need, and will make more trips and use more fuel,” Hardcastle explained.

She advised bulk-buying through home deliveries as an effective way to a more cost-effective way of living.

She also said that one ought to resist the temptation of frequently dining out. Illustrating her point, Hardcastle added: “According to a research, you will need $13.6 to cook an average non-vegetarian meal. The same items will cost $30 at an average restaurant and $22 if ordered from a cloud kitchen, and these are conservative numbers.”

Residents should also shop wisely and more consciously, she said. “The power of the ‘new’ is big business for GCC retailers, but please ask yourself if you really need it before you buy,” she advised. Hardcastle said ‘reuse’ and ‘recycle’ should be the mantra for consumers. “We have a burgeoning culture of accepting pre-loved items now in the GCC. It makes sense,” she added.

  • alarabiya