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In 2009, Abu Dhabi launched a drive into renewable energy that was trumpeted by the global media as evidence that an old-line petro-state had embraced the global low-carbon agenda. Examined closely, however, the kudos may have been premature. Abu Dhabi’s expensive renewables venture will neither allow the emirate to forgo construction of conventional generation, nor will it provide more than token reduction in carbon emissions growth. The main benefit lies in improving this OPEC oil producer’s international image, which, in the political context of a rentier monarchy, is an important source of domestic legitimacy. I show that a more effective policy would aim at reducing consumption by targeting the energy subsidies that account for around a quarter of power demand. Price increases could be accomplished within the political rules by maintaining differentiated tariffs for citizens and non-citizens.
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