Abu Dhabi is preparing a 'green force' to protect the environment

There's a clear path ahead for Abu Dhabi and the UAE to emerge as a leader in green governance

More than a million native wild plant seeds will be distributed across the capital, said Environment Agency Abu Dhabi in February, to increase the emirate’s green cover and promote the use of indigenous fauna that requires less water. Courtesy: Environment Agency Abu Dhabi
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When I joined the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi more than two decades ago, I didn't imagine we would one day launch a 50-year masterplan to make the emirate a world leader in conservation. Well, we did exactly that on April 1.

"Centennial 2071", as our initiative is called, includes three broad objectives: creating a thriving natural world, building a "green force" that is resilient to climate change, and fostering a team of environmental enablers to lead the future.

We have broken down these objectives into 12 pillars, 33 goals and 76 programmes, all of which have been conceived and developed in collaboration with eight government entities and in consultation with the private sector, NGOs and academics. We have also incorporated some of the 1,000-plus ideas we received from a wide cross-section of society, thereby making the vision document richer, more diverse and more inclusive.

Our initiative is aligned to the "UAE Centennial 2071" vision to be the best country in the world in the next half century. This means that the UAE's long-term ambitions serve as the bedrock for what we want to achieve at the local level.

So why, it is fair to ask, have we launched such an ambitious undertaking?

As is evident in the document, we have looked at future mega-trends on a global scale and determined that, as the human population continues to grow for the foreseeable future, our basic needs – food, water and shelter – will grow as well, thereby producing more waste and putting an enormous burden on the environment. By 2050, terrestrial biodiversity is estimated to decrease by 10 per cent and plastic in oceans will outnumber fish. The world will also witness a general deterioration in biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Unfortunately, Abu Dhabi, and the UAE for that matter, won’t be immune to these trends. We, therefore, need to deal with the problem from the get-go. Our plan is to increase conservation efforts, both on land and at sea, to protect biodiversity and rebuild and restore our ecosystems.

To maintain fish stock, for instance, we intend to eliminate unsustainable fishing practices through tighter regulations. About 62 per cent of our stock is currently harvested sustainably. We aim to increase that to 90 per cent over the next two decades. We will also develop sustainable aquaculture to increase its contribution of the wild catch to 50 per cent by 2030, up from 31 per cent today. This will further reduce pressure on “capture fisheries” and meet our food security needs in line with the National Food Security Strategy.

We will also expand the area that comes under the Sheikh Zayed Protected Areas Network with the aim of securing the species, habitats and ecosystems that are threatened. This is vital for climate resilience, given that almost 15 per cent of the world's terrestrial carbon is stored in these networks. Moreover, they are valuable for societal, cultural and tourism purposes.

Most crucially, we want to reverse land degradation to protect and restore terrestrial biodiversity by integrating innovative systems and technologies. Globally, nearly 75 per cent of land areas are degraded. By 2050, increasing desertification alone is estimated to displace more than 135 million people worldwide.

In 50 years, Abu Dhabi needs to have sustainable soil and water management systems that support different life forms. We will outline a framework for sustainable land use, supported by monitoring programmes that will help reduce soil degradation and drive innovation in soil rehabilitation technology and practices.

We will also create a governance system that considers all concepts and interrelationships between water, environment, energy and food elements based on research and best practices. We will track and calculate the movement of water both inside and outside the emirate within specific sectors, determining a fixed total volume of water supply for these sectors with the help of smart hydrological monitoring networks. To reinforce our leadership in pollutant-free air quality management, our agency is already focused on implementing an integrated air quality control and monitoring system across all economic sectors.

In the years to come, climate change is expected to have a telling impact on human health. According to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, temperature-related deaths in the UK are expected to increase by more than 250 per cent by 2050. Few places in the world are likely to be spared this problem.

This is why it is important to build a green force of volunteers to help to protect our society, environment and infrastructure.

As we move towards carbon neutrality by 2050, we will implement measures to develop climate resilience. Creating a climate change data-information-knowledge system for the emirate is an important first step in this direction. The system will support scientific research, predict the implications of climate change, and rely on advanced analytical frameworks. Decision making will be supported by a digital identification system that measures the environmental footprint for every individual, organisation and sector.

By 2060, as oil ceases to become the dominant energy driver, hydrogen is expected to meet almost 25 per cent of the world's needs. Excellence in climate action, green growth, circular economy, and continued leadership in renewables will further push this transition from traditional energy forms. By 2071, Abu Dhabi will further reaffirm its leadership in renewable and clean energies with the availability of nuclear energy, biofuels and hydrogen.

We have plans to stimulate green investments in the circular economy, while focusing on resource efficiency and state-of-the-art waste management.

The emphasis will also be on shaping the future by connecting minds, ideas and activities, supporting lifelong learning, and encouraging a culture of self-monitoring on individual and organisational levels.

Ultimately, our goal is for Abu Dhabi to achieve sustainable development and emerge as a leader in green governance. Attaining this goal will serve as a fitting tribute to the UAE's Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, who was a champion environmentalist and a visionary, light years ahead of his time. His initiatives to reintroduce endangered species and rehabilitate mangroves and other habitats more than three decades ago are a testament to his foresight.

Considering where the world is in the fight against climate change, the challenges that lie ahead can appear frightening. But the prospect of shaping our collective future is exciting, and we are determined to create an environmental legacy that we can all be proud of.

Published: July 11, 2022, 2:00 PM