Major steps in eco awareness

Dr Mathis Wackernagel, the president of the Global Footprint Network, praises a shift in the UAE's thinking over its consumption of resources.

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ABU DHABI // A shift in the UAE's thinking over its consumption of resources has been praised by a leading ecologist. Dr Mathis Wackernagel, the president of the Global Footprint Network (GFN), said officials were now willing to listen to, rather than dispute, the network's findings.

"We have been working with Government institutions here and they have been extremely positive," he said, before a lecture at the Dubai School of Government on Tuesday. The UAE heads the ecological footprint list, an internationally recognised measure of the amount of resources a country uses per head of population. The country has topped the list since 2006. At the time, Government leaders strongly questioned the veracity of its results. They argued that no locally verified data was used for the network's ecological footprint calculations.

However, following increased co-operation between the Government and the report's authors, last year's edition contained local data for the first time. The information was obtained through a joint initiative launched in the country in 2007 called Al Basama Al Beeiya. Razan al Mubarak, the managing director of the Emirates Wildlife Society?World Wide Fund for Nature (EWS-WWF), said Al Basama Al Beeiya had been instrumental in engaging the Government and in raising awareness of the issues.

"There has been an increase in understanding and it is a testament to the UAE Ecological Footprint initiative," she said. Al Basama Al Beeiya comprises experts from the EWS-WWF, the Ministry of Environment and Water, the Abu Dhabi Global Environment Data Initiative and the GFN. "The initiative is steered by a committee which includes members representing public organisations from all the seven emirates. Since we started the campaign, all these members have been with us from day one.

"We have been supported by a very strong research team. All of us have gone through a steep curve of learning and capacity building," Ms al Mubarak said. Dr Wackernagel agreed that understanding had become more widespread in the country. "Two years ago, there were perhaps three persons in the UAE that could explain the footprint," he said. "Now it is much more widely understood." Last year Al Basama Al Beeiya investigated which sectors have the most impact on the UAE's ecological footprint and which economic activities are primarily responsible for the its greenhouse emissions.

It has been calculated that if the rest of the planet consumed resources at the same level as the UAE, humanity would need 4.5 planets to sustain itself. Al Basama Al Beeiya researchers are now trying to find out just why the country uses resources at such a high rate. Dr Wackernagel said growing ecological expertise in the country was an important first step in understanding the causes and tackling the problem.

Next year, the project will try to develop policies to help reduce demand for natural resources. He added that the pressures on natural resources would only intensify as developing countries tried to replicate models from the industrialised world. This, he said, was unsustainable. "Collectively we have a problem. Our resource consumption is higher than the planet can provide," he said. "Cities and countries have interests that have not yet been realised. A city that uses a lot of resources to operate or for people to live, will not be as competitive as more efficient cities."