UAE- The G in ESG

  • Market Insight 19 June 2024 19 June 2024
  • Middle East

  • Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) considerations increasingly dominate the corporate and financial landscapes, resulting in organisations across the globe encountering heightened scrutiny in these areas. Corporate entities are facing increasing pressure from investors and other key stakeholders to disclose their business operations, the impact on environmental and social factors, as well as their internal governance policies.

While the adoption of rigorous governance and reporting standards represents a significant challenge for businesses, it also offers substantial opportunities. Transparent disclosure of non-financial aspects not only influences capital flows but also significantly enhances reputation.

In the last of the ESG series, we consider the governance pillar of ESG and its impact on corporate entities.

Visibility of Corporate Governance

Corporate governance includes the business policies, ethics, and anti-corruption mechanisms that ensure compliance with relevant legislation. 

Reforms in the UAE are designed to bolster accountability and transparency across corporate entities, while also ensuring protection for individuals who report misconduct.

Here are some of the key developments in the region:

  • ADGM Whistleblowing Framework: In March 2023, the ADGM announced a Consultation Paper on a proposed whistleblowing framework, building upon the ADGM Guiding Principles on Whistleblowing issued in December 2022.
  • DIFC Whistleblowing Protection: Whistleblowing protection falls under the DIFC Operating Law[1] and applies to any person operating in or from the DIFC. Protection from any liability or from dismissal of employment is provided to those disclosing information. Notably, any disclosures made in bad faith shall be subject to a penalty of up to USD 30,000.
  • DFSA Whistleblowing Regime: The DFSA issued the regulatory regime in April 2022, and this applies to all DFSA Regulated Entities operating in the DIFC.
  • Tax Authority: The UAE Federal Tax Authority has the authority to issue monetary rewards to eligible informants reporting on non-compliance with tax legislation.
  • Penal Code: The New Penal Code[2] became effective on 2 January 2022, replacing the old law. Whilst provisions on anti-bribery and corruption have formed part of the penal code since its inception in 1987, the New Penal Code includes a penalty exemption for the reporter of the bribe, including where this happens to be the briber.

Corporate organisations should be aware of the regulatory reform that encourages disclosure of misconduct. As scrutiny around adherence to ESG principles intensifies, it is crucial for entities to ensure their policies and initiatives genuinely reflect their commitment to sustainability. This means actively avoiding the practice of "greenwashing" - the act of misleadingly marketing products or policies as environmentally friendly. Failing to do so could lead to negative disclosures, potentially inflicting significant financial and reputational damage on the organisation.

In addition, the new Competition Law[3] was issued in 2023 and applies to all entities carrying out economic activity in the UAE, including the free zones. The objective of the new Competition Law is to combat monopolistic practices to create a fair and sustainable market. The Ministry of Economy is likely to approve exemptions where agreements prove necessary to promote economic development. The Implementing Regulations are expected to clarify the procedures for obtaining an exemption.

Sustainable Finance

In alignment with the UAE Sustainability Agenda and the commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, the regulation of ESG reporting is fast becoming part of the corporate ecosystem.

The Sustainable Finance Working Group (SFWG) and the Dubai Sustainable Finance Working Group (DSFWG) were established in 2019 to facilitate the transition to a green economy by creating minimum standards for climate-related governance within the financial sector. The working groups have issued several guidance notes which develop principles around sustainability reporting, effective management of climate-related risks and achieving net-zero emissions.

Following the initiatives of the working groups and the 2016 State of Green Finance in the UAE Report, the Sustainable Finance Framework 2031 was launched in 2021 to lay the foundation for green investment within the UAE. The framework is based upon three pillars of sustainability: financial decision-making and standardising ESG reporting, enhancing the supply of green investment projects by incentivising financial institutions, and promoting sustainable finance through collaborations.

More recently, regulatory reporting on sustainable finance has been incorporated into the financial free zones.

The ADGM implemented the ESG Disclosure Framework and Sustainable Finance Regulatory Framework (the ADGM Regulatory Framework) in 2023, effective immediately. The ADGM Regulatory Framework is a comprehensive approach to green financing and ESG disclosure requirements based upon international standards.

Companies falling within the set threshold, with a turnover of more than USD $68million, or financial institutions managing collective investment funds or assets, are expected to provide information on the company’s ESG performance and strategies. The Regulator adopts a flexible “comply or explain” approach to encourage transparent disclosures.

The AGDM Regulatory Framework also covers directors’ duties, ensuring company directors act in good faith and with due diligence to fulfil their duties. Communication with shareholders is paramount whilst at the same time they should ensure fair treatment of shareholders and other key stakeholders.  

Regulatory reform has also been implemented in the DIFC. In accordance with the DIFC Strategy 2030, the DIFC launched the Sustainable Finance Framework in 2023 channelling capital into eligible sustainable projects by issuing Sustainable Finance Instruments such as green bonds, loans or sukuk. The eligible green projects will facilitate investment into climate change mitigation through incentives such as energy efficient construction, renewable energy, and clean transportation. 

Eligible DIFC corporate entities will be required to report on the actual and expected environmental and social impacts of the eligible sustainable projects, detailing the level of certification of green buildings, energy efficiency, sustainable water management and pollution prevention measures undertaken.

To bolster green financing, the DFSA has waived the regulatory fees for sustainable debt securities in the DIFC for 2024. The fee waiver will apply to all ESG related bonds and will accelerate sustainable financing of environmentally sustainable projects in the region.

A similar regulatory drive is also seen regionally:

  • Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: the Green Financing Framework was issued by the Ministry of Finance in March 2024 in line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.
  • Kingdom of Bahrain: ESG Requirements Module launched in November 2023 and will be effective as of 31 December 2024. The Module includes ESG reporting requirements for listed companies and financial institutions to establish a unified framework and facilitate transparent ESG disclosures.
  • Qatar: The Qatar Financial Centre established the QFC Sustainable Sukuk and Bonds Framework. Sustainable Finance Frameworks were issued by Qatar International Islamic Bank and Qatar National Bank, which extends to its international selected branches and subsidiaries. 
  • Oman: Sustainable finance framework launched in January 2024 and aims to issue green and sustainable finance instruments to finance renewable energy projects.
  • Kuwait: the National Bank of Kuwait established the sustainable financing framework to encourage ESG integration and issue sustainable finance instruments.
  • Egypt: the Sovereign Sustainable Financing Framework updated the 2020 Green Financing Framework incorporating additional green projects aligning with the sustainable development strategy of Egypt’s Vision 2030.
  • Lebanon: Lebanon Green Investment Facility was launched in February 2024 to accelerate the transition to a green economy.


The UAE recognises the impact of ESG reporting and investment for growing a green economy and mitigating climate change. By incentivising the private sector to turn towards sustainable financing, capital can be channelled into green investments and sustainable projects.

The current lack of ESG reporting creates difficulties for investors wishing to conduct due diligence around ESG compliance. Additionally, the inception of new regulations brings significant compliance challenges for corporate and financial institutions. Corporate organisations must seek to avoid greenwashing their policies and should report non-financial matters in a transparent manner to foster  a corporate ecosystem that aligns with the UAE’s goal of net zero by 2050.

[1] DIFC Law No. 7 of 2018 Operating Law.

[2] The Federal Law No. 31 of 2021 on the Issuance of the Crimes and Penalties Law.

[3] Federal Decree Law No. 36 of 2023 on the Regulation of Competition.


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