ABU DHABI, 5th February, 2017 (WAM) -- On Saturday, the UAE celebrated its 20th National Environment Day, and Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary-General of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi, EAD, used the occasion to urge residents to keep the idea of sustainability at the heart of their lifestyle.
In an open letter released on the day, Al Mubarak said, "For many, this is the opportunity to take stock of where we are, and to look forward to where we need to be if we are to realise the vision of a more sustainable nation for today’s and subsequent generations. The foundations for a more sustainable tomorrow will be built today.
"This occasion caused me to reflect upon our own 20th anniversary at the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi. Twenty years ago, the landscape of Abu Dhabi was very different, but with a rapidly expanding population, infrastructure and economy, we too have changed beyond recognition since our original mandate as the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency, ERWDA. Our rather humble beginnings were rooted in environmental research.
"In many ways this has remained the backbone of all that we have achieved to date. Twenty years ago, very little data existed on our natural environment and, given the uniqueness of our fragile ecosystems, this could not simply be extrapolated from data gathered elsewhere.
"Over the past 20 years, EAD has collected, aggregated and analysed data to grow our collective knowledge on the state of our environment and anthropological impacts. Understanding of our environment has enabled us to not only conserve our biodiversity but has also led to an expanded remit as the Emirate of Abu Dhabi’s environmental regulator and the fulfillment of this role.
"An ever-deepening understanding of the state of our environment informs our efforts in environmental quality related issues. The improvement of marine water quality, air quality, the protection of our precious groundwater resources, understanding of the potential impacts of climate change and how to mitigate against them, and the development of appropriate policy instruments to ensure that our growth is as sustainable as possible.
"We have attained a number of achievements in environmental protection and conservation that we and the people of Abu Dhabi can be justifiably proud of. These include, but are most certainly not limited to, a number of policies and their implementation that serve to protect our natural and national resources, such as groundwater monitoring and preservation, measuring of our marine water quality and regulations to limit discharges from industrial activities, coastal development and human waste which could all be potentially harmful. We have developed and implemented compulsory Environmental Impact Assessments and licensing of industries and developments that have the potential to negatively impact the environment.
"As Abu Dhabi Emirate has grown, EAD has been consulted on many of the landmark developments to ensure they meet stringent environmental standards. We are also working very closely with new industries to develop appropriate policies, monitoring frameworks and regulation. For example, we are working very closely with Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation to provide a full environmental assessment for the construction of Barakah Nuclear Power Plant Units 1 and 2.
"EAD has also been instrumental in working with the judiciary to establish laws and environmental courts to adjudicate in cases relating to the environment..
"We have mapped the land use and habitats of Abu Dhabi to a higher degree of granularity than almost anywhere else on earth. Subsequently, policies have been introduced which govern land use and soil quality, and the provision of protected areas as safe havens for 'at risk' species.
"EAD has conducted detailed studies of fish stocks for the past 16 years in Abu Dhabi's waters, which account for the majority of marine areas of the UAE. During this time, we have been regulating both commercial and recreational fishermen. In 2015, in partnership with the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, we launched the UAE Sustainable Fisheries Programme, which aims to chart a path for the recovery of our fisheries."
The EAD is about to publish the Abu Dhabi State of the Environment Report for 2016 which details the current state of the environment in the emirate. It follows the internationally recognised DPSIR model: drivers, pressures, state, impacts and responses, to frame knowledge on the state of the environment and to demonstrate the interrelation and consequences of environmental pressures. The report will be used to guide EAD and other Abu Dhabi stakeholders to make the most effective decisions in environmental management.
Ms. Al Mubarak, went on to say, "Over the last 20 years, we have also contributed to some landmark achievements in species conservation, both locally and internationally, including bringing the Arabian Oryx back from the brink of extinction, not only in the UAE but also in many of the species’ former range states, and working with the Government of Chad, along with other partners, to reintroduce the Scimitar horned Oryx where it used to roam freely before becoming extinct in the wild.
"We have also implemented conservation strategies that contribute to preserving some of the cultural traditions of Abu Dhabi including protecting and restocking wild populations of one of the falconers’ most-prized preys, the Houbara bustard, and our participation in the Sheikh Zayed Falcon Release Programme and the development of a Global Action Plan for the Saker Falcon are also helping in developing sustainable falconry in the UAE.
"We have also been working on the conservation of marine species such as the Dugong and we currently host the second largest herd of Dugongs in the world after Australia. The Hawksbill turtle, numerous species of sharks, rays and coral species also benefit from our species conservation efforts and establishment of protected areas. Over the past 20 years, we have succeeded in ensuring that 13.45% of Abu Dhabi’s marine and 15.45% of our terrestrial area is protected.
"This brief precis of some of our efforts and achievements in environmental protection over the past 20 years is testimony to the growth and capacity-building of our talent. We now have over 1050 employees in Abu Dhabi, and for 20 years we have been able to attract and, more importantly, grow rich talent across a broad spectrum of expertise in environmental conservation. Now 69 percent of all of our employees and 100 percent of our employees in higher management, are Emirati of which 41 percent are female.
Al Mubarak went on to laud the support given by the authorities, saying, "We simply could not have accomplished so much without the support of our leadership and our partners in government, the private sector locally, internationally and, perhaps most importantly, the people of Abu Dhabi.
"As we build upon the successes of the last 20 years, and look forward we will continue to contribute to the realisation of the Abu Dhabi Plan, seeking to contribute to an improvement of our water quality, adopting ever more rigorous measures to protect our air quality, conserve our precious groundwater reserves and continue to protect our species, including our commercial fisheries, through the expansion of protected areas, species specific plans and appropriate regulation. We will also continue to build our citizens’ and residents’ capacity as environmental protectors through our education, awareness and stakeholder engagement initiatives.
"If residents of the UAE place sustainability at the heart of their lifestyle, they will surely be rewarded with a better, healthier environment, now and for future generations. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary year we would like to add to those rewards, with these initiatives: working with the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Festival to host the 'Art in Nature' exhibition, an artistic celebration of our natural heritage, working with the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Cultural Authority to expand our eco-tourism offering, increasing access to and upgrading the experience for visitors to our protected areas, and continuing with our environmental education efforts in schools and universities throughout the emirate of Abu Dhabi and beyond."
Ms. Al Mubarak concluded her open letter by saying, "Last but not least, we are providing researchers, policy makers and influencers with ever increasing intelligence on our environment.
One closing remark I would like to make to all readers, is that as you seek to embrace sustainability in your lifestyle, please do not consider this a chore, but an opportunity to learn more, see more and do more in the wonderful natural environment that is our home."