UAE economy most diversified of all oil-based nations, UN environment chief says

Masdar City, a special economic zone that will eventually be home to companies and researchers from around the world to develop solar and other clean energies outside Abu Dhabi. (AFP)
Updated 07 March 2018
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UAE economy most diversified of all oil-based nations, UN environment chief says

The big challenge for the United Arab Emirates and the region is the transformation from an oil-based economy to one that is more broad-based, and according to the UN environment head, the UAE has achieved more than others.
“The Emirates is an amazing success story in terms of development,” UN Environment Executive Director, Erik Solheim told Arab News.
“It’s true that they have led to high emissions and environmental problems – as everywhere else undergoing development - however I am confident the government is now attacking this in a very determined way,” Solheim said.
The UAE has taken strides forward on climate change mitigation in recent years that are reflected by the establishment of the federal ministry of climate change and its commitment to the ratification of the Paris Agreement in 2015, which pledged not to just keep the increase in temperatures below 2C, but also to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C by 2018.
 
UN Environment Executive Director Erik Solheim, March 1, 2018, Dubai. (Photo: AN/ Rua'a Alameri)

During the Clean Air Forum held in Abu Dhabi last December it was announced that the majority of emissions being produced in the UAE could be traced back to the country’s energy sector, making up 74 percent of released emissions.
One of the contributing factors is the population growth and surge in income levels due to the economic boom the UAE witnessed in the past four decades, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment Thani bin Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi said last month. This led to a rise in non-sustainable production and consumption patterns, he said.
“The UAE has brought affluence to people at a high speed, so it means the challenge is big, but it has proved that it is a nation capable of adapting,” Solheim said.
In response, the UAE has put in place initiatives in order to control the effects of climate change, which include controlling emissions, reducing flaring of natural gas and increasing energy efficiency.
Solheim explained that for the region the main issue to focus on is shifting from a fossil fuel-based economy and secondly to introduce further the use of solar, wind and other renewable energies. This will have the benefit of both reducing pollution and climate change, he said.
In October 2017, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) launched a new project, as part of the Shams Dubai initiative, to install solar carports at their headquarters and at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment buildings. The project aims to generate electricity using solar panels connected to DEWA’s network and is expected to reduce around 1,500 tonnes of carbon emissions annually to meet the goal set by the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy to cut 20 percent of the energy consumption in all government buildings, by 2020.
Plans were also announced last year for the world’s largest concentrated solar power project to be implemented in Dubai. The largest single-site project will generate 700 megawatts of power when completed, state news agency WAM reported.
Depending on average sunshine, it is estimated that one megawatt can power 164 homes.
It will also include the world’s tallest solar tower, standing 260 metres tall at Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park.
“The good news is that the price of solar and wind energy has fallen much more than the oil prices,” Solheim said, explaining that while in the past solar energy was less competitive but more environmentally friendly, it is now both better for the environment and in general terms the same or even lower priced than fossil fuel.
High costs had previously been a major obstacle prohibiting growth for the solar sector but prices have fallen. Solar PV modules are more than 80 percent cheaper than in 2009, and the cost of electricity from solar PV fell by almost three-quarters in 2010-2017 and continues to decline, according to the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency, (Irena).
“That’s why you see solar and wind energy taking off in a completely new way,” Solheim said.  
“Al-Futtaim also have big ambitions going into this…And when others follow, the price will continue to fall,” he said, referring to Al-Futtaim Group, the largest conglomerate operating in the UAE.
The UN environment head met to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Majid Al Futtaim on sustainable construction during his visit to the UAE on Thursday.
Al Futtaim group partnered with the United Nations Environment Programme to get advice on the best practice for sustainable development that is environmentally friendly.
“Construction is one of the main sectors for both climate emissions and other areas,” Solheim said. Other areas that construction affects include the mining processes used to source materials, the transportation of these materials to the building site, the construction process itself and the waste removal and disposal process that follows the completion of the project.
The UAE’s infrastructure is currently the most advanced in the GCC region with well-integrated transport systems and assembly of iconic structure, according to a report by Research and Markets titled UAE Construction Industry Outlook to 2020.
However, it is a sector of concern. Tall buildings in the UAE consume huge amounts of water and electricity to cope with overheating under the country’s weather conditions, and as such have become significant sources of major greenhouse gas emissions.
The UN Environment Programme reports that the building sector accounts for 30 to 40 percent of global energy use. However, in Abu Dhabi, buildings consume approximately 50 to 60 percent of electricity generated.
However, Solheim states that the UAE has a “lead role to play because it’s the most modern place in the West Asia.”
He explained that both the public and private sector must work together to insure a greener future to “make society better for humans and future generations.”


Ahmed Al-Habtoor: Portrait of a driven auto executive

Updated 19 May 2019
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Ahmed Al-Habtoor: Portrait of a driven auto executive

  • There is no country on this planet where you will see Bentleys, McLarens and Bugattis as much as in the UAE.

DUBAI: Over the course of a morning in his office in Deira, Dubai’s traditional business district, Ahmed Al-Habtoor talked eloquently and expertly about the motor business in the UAE and the Arabian Gulf, about customers’ likes and dislikes, about the tough times the industry has faced recently, about his best-selling models, and about the importance of the sector within the UAE economy.
Then, he dropped a small bombshell. He is always chauffeurdriven, and seldom gets behind the wheel of any of the luxury vehicles he trades daily. “I don’t care about driving cars, I care about selling them,” he revealed.
From the youthful chief executive officer of Al Habtoor Motors, who could have his pick of Bugattis, Bentleys, McLarens and other “fast boys toys,” that was quite a revelation.
“I don’t like driving, I like to be on my phone checking emails and messages. I don’t have the patience to look for parking, and anybody who can afford to have a driver should do so,” he added.
So Al-Habtoor is, in more senses than one, a driven executive. The motor division is a key part of the Al Habtoor conglomerate, started by his father, the group chairman Khalaf, in the 1970s as an engineering business but which has expanded through real estate, hotels and hospitality, to education and entertainment.
Motors has been an integral pillar of the Habtoor portfolio since it was set up in 1983 to handle the Mitsubishi franchise in the UAE. “We have strict corporate governance, law, a constitution in the company. The rules are set and we are here to implement the directions of the chairman. We have our own ideas, we try to be creative, but it is a well-established, solid company with very strong roots,” he said.
here is still a large number of workers — whom he called “partners” — who can date their employment back to the very beginning of the Mitsubishi franchise.
He admits to two alternative frustrations in his job, depending on the economic climate.
“When the market is active and business is fantastic, I get frustrated at the pressure of delivering to my clients. I’m just busy, trying to meet the expectation of delivering the right product at the right time,” he explained. “The other frustration is when the market is challenging and low, I’m busy trying to be busy, trying to find business. It’s all about being busy.”
For the past few years, the “challenging” market has been to the fore, as he candidly admitted. The fall in the oil price in 2014-15 began to affect the economies of the energy exporters of the Arabian Gulf toward the end of the following year, and the motor sector was seriously hit. Sales volumes declined sharply — compounded by government spending cuts and some policy decisions.
“I think in 2017 the volume was acceptable. In 2018, it dropped when the government implemented VAT. I don’t think VAT was the wrong decision, but it had a negative effect. It was implemented when the market was in a weak situation. If the market was booming, it would have been much easier for us,” he said.
Al Habtoor Motors’ longevity gives its CEO a perspective on the forces that shape the industry. “It’s a cycle. There is always a cycle every 6-8 years. When oil prices started to fall it had an effect. In our region, government spending is the key to moving the economy. Not only in Dubai, but the whole of the UAE.”
He estimated that the motor industry was the second biggest sector in the UAE’s non-oil economy, behind real estate, but saw no real linkage in the simultaneous downturns in property and motor sales.
The other factor that affected car sales — especially in the high volume and fleet car business — was the increasing reluctance of banks in the UAE to continue previous levels of finance to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) during the worst of the downturn.

“It was not a very wise decision to withdraw support from SMEs. The economy depends on large companies, but at the end of the day, consumption comes out of the (medium) and small businesses. Uncertainty and insecurity in the market made a lot of people stay away from buying,” he said.
Al-Habtoor estimated that car sales volumes in the fleet business were down by 50 percent from the highs of 2015, as they were across the whole of the volume motor business. “Last year was very challenging, but thankfully we managed all the challenges,” he said, on the back of an upturn in business measured across the whole of last year.
He has reason to be more optimistic in the current year. “There has been stimulus to the economy, Expo 2020, and the confidence in the market improved. The changes to visa arrangements, the reduction of license fees — all these are having an effect,” he said.
On the “Expo effect” — the expected boost to the UAE economy from the huge business fair planned for next autumn — he was cautiously positive. “We’ve seen that coming through already. Now it is nominal, but we are seeing green shoots. It is not a big effect yet but it is happening, and the more we go toward October next year the more benefit will come,” Al-Habtoor said, adding that he was confident of getting back to 2015 levels eventually.
That is good news for the Mitsubishi, Fuso, Jac and Chery marks that are Habtoor’s staple. But the group also has an impressive stable of luxury cars, with the dealerships for Bentley, the McLaren sports brand, and the super-car Bugatti, in the UAE
The UAE’s reputation for glamorous, extravagant cars — even down to the Dubai police fleet — is a global phenomenon, and Al-Habtoor does not think it will change any time soon, even in challenging economic circumstances.
“A lot of people want beautiful cars and the best. It always was like that, it still is now and it will be in the future. The UAE and Dubai is always about the best. It’s in the culture of the city. There is no country on this planet where you will see Bentleys, McLarens and Bugattis as much as in the UAE,” he said.
The economics are different in the luxury brands, which were not as badly hit by the oil-related slump as the volume business. “The luxury end was affected by the downturn, but it’s more resilient, it’s OK,” he said.
“In the first four months of this year, we’re the number one dealer in the world for Bentley, and have consistently been among the biggest Bentley dealers in the world, if not the biggest. When luxury goods are moving, not just cars, but jewelry and other things, I feel that the economy will come back soon,” he said.
Bentley sales have been given a boost by the introduction at the end of last year of a new Continental GT, and by the continued appeal of the Bentayga, the company’s first move into the SUV market, which has huge appeal for motorists in the region. Deliberately priced at below 1 million dirhams ($272,250), the luxury SUV aims to take on other upmarket four-wheel-drive vehicles.
He seemed especially pleased with the performance of the McLaren range within his portfolio, vying with other more famous brands in the lucrative but very competitive sports car segment — another best seller in the region.
At the top end, McLaren competes with the best in the sports car market, and its BP23 model sells at more than 10 million dirhams. “There are only 116 vehicles around the world and we have six of them. In that ultimate series sector, McLaren is dominating,” Al-Habtoor said.
Then there is Bugatti, the French super-sports car whose Chiron model is one of the most expensive seen on the UAE’s roads, selling at around 12 million dirhams. Last year, the company sold 12 of them, Al-Habtoor said, but any ideas that McLaren is competing with, and cannibalizing sales, of Bugatti were dismissed.
“That’s like comparing a normal plane with a UFO. I once drove a Bugatti on a track at over 200km and it was as if I was having a picnic in the garden — you don’t even feel it,” he said.
Occasional high-speed track driving, apparently, is one of the few occasions he likes to give the chauffeur a day off.