Environmentalists in the UAE are encouraging the public to get involved in Earth Hour, an annual event where people turn off all lights for 60 minutes.
The event helps raise awareness and reduce carbon emissions in the country – as the world continues to face dire consequences of climate change – said Emirates Nature-WWF, a non-government organisation that backs the global environment campaign in the UAE .
Launched in 2007, the movement has the support of more than 190 countries, where homes, hotels, landmarks and government buildings switch off their lights for an hour.
More than three million people and 700 organisations across the UAE were involved last year. In Dubai, that helped save 178 megawatts of electricity and reduced 74 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. The emirate saved 114 tonnes in 2019 and 140 tonnes the year before.
"In the UAE, the movement has definitely grown over the years," Laila Mostafa Abdullatif, director-general at Emirates Nature-WWF, told The National.
“Last year, due to Covid-19, we wanted to ensure that the campaign was done in a safe format and supported health and wellbeing of the community. We implemented a digital Earth Hour campaign, which we're going to continue to do this year, as well. As an impact, we saw all seven emirates participate.”
"We're encouraging more people to participate this year and sign up through our website EarthHour.ae."
In previous years, public events were organised and people celebrated the campaign together by lighting candles.
How to participate in Earth Hour
The event takes place at 8.30pm and residents are encouraged to turn off their to switch off lights and all unnecessary electrical appliances for an hour on Saturday, 27 March.
However, many also take it beyond the 60 minutes to help reduce more emissions.
UAE residents can sign up for Earth hour online.
Theme of Earth Hour 2021
This year's campaign focuses on how nature loss is linked to an increased risk of pandemics.
Experts at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, a public health agency in the US, confirmed that Covid-19 is airborne and can spread through minuscule droplets.
This raised concerns globally about air pollution levels, which not only damages the Earth’s ozone layer, but also harms human health.
“I think a number of different environmental factors result in an increase in viruses. There’s also the encroachment of urbanisation on our natural environments and, therefore, the encroachment towards other species,” Ms Abdullatif said.
“If you're talking about air pollution, it is the single greatest environmental threat to the world and to our health, according to the United Nations.”
Each year, 6.5 million people die globally from exposure to indoor and outdoor pollution.
Climate change is directly linked to nature loss. High levels of greenhouse gases and human activities such as deforestation are damaging the atmosphere, creating severe weather changes and harming nature.
“What’s become clearer now is that our future and the planet’s future are intrinsically linked and both under threat,” Ms Abdullatif said.
She highlighted recent catastrophic events, such as the Covid-19 pandemic wildfires, extreme weather and locusts.
“Now we are dealing with the socio-economic impact, unfortunately," she said.
"So, making nature a priority is important because the planet's life support system gives us everything we need.”
Is the UAE feeling the effects?
The Emirates is not immune to the effects of climate change, particularly because of its dry climate.
Regular sandstorms are a concern as they carry dust that could potentially consist of harmful bacteria. Other areas of concern include lack of rain and high temperatures.
Qais Al Suwaidi, a climate change expert at the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, said the country was not spared the effects, but there was an action plan in place.
"The UAE's harsh desert environment makes it especially vulnerable to the impact of climate change, with high summer temperatures placing people, infrastructure and ecosystems close to heat thresholds," he told The National.
“To strengthen the country’s climate resilience, we have initiated the National Climate Change Adaptation Programme.
“Risks across priority sectors – energy, infrastructure, health, and the environment – have been assessed, and the ministry is currently working with its stakeholders to develop and implement relevant adaptation action plans.”
The ministry also launched the National Climate Change Plan 2017-2050. The goal is to create a climate-resilient green economy and improve quality of life.
Three priorities under the plan are – managing national greenhouse gas emissions, climate change adaptation planning and implementation, and a private sector-driven economic diversification programme.
What are the challenges?
Mr Al Suwaidi said there was need for more climate research and data collection projects.
“Studying the changes in climate, especifically in our region, will help us better prepare to address their impact,” he said.
“The greatest challenges we face with respect to climate science in the UAE include data acquisition and validation, in addition to the need for higher-resolution regional modelling efforts.”
This year, the ministry launched the UAE Climate Change Research Network to fill in these gaps.
It will bring together scientists and researchers to carry out advanced climate data collection, research on the impact of climate change and adaptation in the UAE and the wider Arabian Gulf region.
The Dubai Municipality and Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre launched an environment satellite recently. It will help create an air quality map of the country and measure greenhouse gases.