A stark assessment of the challenges facing the environment is outlined in the latest report from the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi.
The comprehensive assessment of the state of the the capital's natural resources sets out the areas of greatest concern, but also highlights the EAD’s work to overcome them.
Its top priorities include the demands being put on ground water, protecting air quality, fighting climate change and conserving wildlife both on land and in the sea.
The issue of falling groundwater levels, the 2017 annual report says, is: “one of our most pressing challenges and greatest areas of concern.”
New laws were passed last year to protect groundwater wells from pollution and excessive use, which the EAD calls: “Essential to the security, cultural heritage and environment of the UAE.”
The report adds that: “These reserves have been severely depleted and our prevailing climatic conditions mean that replenishment takes place extremely slowly, falling far short of the demand for consumption.”
The EAD warns that in several areas, the quality of the remaining groundwater: “Has been tainted in places by rising levels of brackish groundwater from saline aquifers, as well as excessive use of fertilisers and discharge of brine from desalination plants, along with wastewater.”
In response, the agency says it has completed 99 per cent of the infrastructure for a strategic water reserve in Liwa that will use a system of recovery wells, recharge basins, pumps and tanks that can supply the entire city of Abu Dhabi and the Al Dhafra region with refreshed groundwater for 90 days.
A proposal has also been made to create another reserve in the Al Shuaib area that would ensure three months’ supply in an emergency for Al Ain, with the possibility of extending it to the Northern Emirates.
The EAD has also been successful in cutting the amount of groundwater used by forests by over a quarter and within the next 18 months will have mapped every working groundwater well in the Emirate.
Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, EAD’s Secretary General, explained that: "We have made significant strides in improving the irrigation efficiency of Abu Dhabi’s forests, decommissioning very low ecological and cultural value forests that are not viable.”
The report underlines the UAE and Abu Dhabi’s commitment to the 2016 Paris agreement on climate change, while outlining two widely different scenarios for the future.
EAD research concludes that: “Emissions in 2030 could be 170% higher than in 2010 if the current trend continues,” but says that there is the potential to slash them by 40 per cent if key economic sectors, including energy and waste, follow policies on emissions.
The agency sees potential in expanding and protecting mangroves as a method of scrubbing carbon from the atmosphere and says the promotion of clean energy technologies and use of low carbon fuel means that: “Abu Dhabi has performed relatively well in comparison to other developing countries.”
The Agency identifies outdoor air pollution as: “The single biggest threat to the health of people and wildlife in the emirate,” and says it is now monitoring emissions across the Emirate, while creating regulatory standards for airborne pollutants, including ozone, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide, a by-product of treating sour gas.
Air quality, the report says, generally meets Government standards set down in 2006, with the exception of ozone and particulate matter – a mixture of extremely small particles and liquid drops caused by urban pollution that can cause serious health issues for the heart and lungs.
Its research also shows that levels of mercury, another toxic substance generated by urban waste, rose by 10 per cent between 2010 and 2012, with the potential that it could rise 115 per cent by 2030.
At the same time, the EAD says, tougher controls mean instead that it is targeting a reduction in mercury levels of nearly 40 per cent and that it was the first agency in the region complete an inventory of mercury sources in response to the United Nations Environment Programme Minamata Convention.
Of the 23,000 tons of waste generated by Abu Dhabi every day in 2015, only around one per cent was considered hazardous. The main sources of waste, the EAD says, are industrial and commercial activities, almost matched by construction and demolition, together amounting for 73 per cent, with municipal waste accounting for only a fifth and agriculture just six percent.
Better waste management, the report says, means the Emirate is well on track to meet the targets in the Abu Dhabi Plan 2020, which seek drastic cuts of municipal solid waste generation to 1.5 kgs per capita each day and increase the amount of treated municipal waste to 75% by 2021.