UAE heritage key to protecting environment, Green Sheikh says

UAE heritage is key to protecting the environment, said Dr Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Ali Al Nuaimi, who calls himself the "Green Sheikh".

Dr Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Nuaimi says it is up to the nation’s young people to protect and nurture water resources and secure a ‘blue peace’ for the region and the world. Vidhyaa for The National
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ABU DHABI // The UAE’s heritage and religion are key factors in protecting the environment, said environment advocate Dr Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Nuaimi, who calls himself the Green Sheikh.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi on the International Day of Peace, Sheikh Abdulaziz said that religion, the environment and peace are all related, and he launched a youth programme to protect water resources.

Global water consumption per person is 218 litres a day, but in the UAE, the figure is nearly three times that, at 650 litres a day.

“Water is all about habits,” said Sheikh Abdulaziz as he pointed at his refillable bottle. “I appreciate water but not many people appreciate it because they use plastic bottles.”

Despite weather conditions, he said, people in the UAE seem to take water for granted.

“Water for us doesn’t come from rain because we are an arid country. Underground ­water reserves are all but depleted, so our water comes from the ocean,” he said.

“We, as a country, pay so much to make water.”

Desalination in the UAE creates an illusion that residents have unlimited access to water, he said. That attitude of overconsumption is not only wrong for the environment, but it also goes against the way of life for Muslims.

“How can we use the practices of Prophet Mohammed? Take for example, ablutions – we are supposed to use approximately 600 millilitres of water,” Sheikh Abdulaziz said.

“How much do we actually use in ablutions? Fifteen litres, 18 litres, more?”

Sheikh Abdulaziz said there needed to be more policies and campaigns to complement an improvement in water consumption and environmental habits.

He is starting a programme called Blue Youth to connect young people around the world and provide them with training to create proposals and connect their ideas with decision makers.

Youth will be most affected by challenges such as water pollution, water control and access, Sheikh Abdulaziz said. The Blue Youth participants will present their findings at the Cop22 climate change conference in Marrakech, Morocco this year.

“It will be a new idea and it will be a simple idea,” he said. “We want the youth to be trained and we want them to deliver their message.”

Blue Youth will provide virtual training to participants in 18 countries, through collaboration with the Global Education Centre in Canada.

The students will be mentored by academics and professionals in water-related fields.

The youth participating in the initiative will then work to draft an environmental policy related to water protection. Fifty students will be selected to present the findings and propose the policy at the conference in Marrakech in November.

Sheikh Abdulaziz’s talk came as the UAE ratified the Cop21 agreement at the United Nations on Wednesday, commiting to the Paris Agreement, which is aimed at reducing global warming to less than 2°C.

“The Paris Agreement is the world’s first truly durable response to climate change,” said Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment.

“It allows each country to contribute climate actions in accordance with their own economic and development priorities. For the UAE, this means solutions that create new social and economic opportunities and support our ambitious agenda towards economic ­diversification.”

The UAE will participate in the Cop22 conference as well as implementing the UAE National Climate Change Plan, which will set a national framework for climate action. Water issues will feature prominently in the talks and in moving forward the country’s environmental policy.

“How can we bring a blue peace? It’s already there, but no one is implementing it,” Sheikh Abdulaziz said.

“This is why I am bringing young people to love each ­other, to respect each other and to share the same common goal, which is water.”