Greenhouse gases. CFCs. Ozone depletion. Cows. Methane. These are all terms that many of us came across studying basic environmental science back in elementary school.
We know these are – in context – bad terms and we know they supposedly have a negative impact on the environment as well, but beyond the basics, how many of us are actually aware of the environmental challenges the world is up against?
Oasis Living will be running a series of features focused on highlighting and promoting environmental awareness, with the first article dedicated to outlining the major environmental challenges we face in the UAE today.
The country's rapid economic development coupled with its increase in population growth has raised a high demand for resources like water and energy. Add to that the fastpaced urban development and the UAE now has a long laundry list of environmental issues to deal with.
Here are five key issues that the country's policymakers are widely battling against to ensure a greener future:
Countless researches, documentaries, and real-life scenarios have proven that climate change is a harsh truth and a result of us living beyond our means. Global warming is one of its byproducts and has been brought about through air and water pollution caused by human activities.
Essentially, the Earth's atmosphere is warming faster than it ever has, leading to quick changes in weather patterns, climates and natural environments which in turn impact the life around/in it. You don't have to look any further than the recent flooding in Kerala, India, for proof.
Back in 2010, the UAE participated in examining the effects of increasing carbon dioxide emissions and its impact on the weather. The results showed a dramatic impact - rising sea levels which would affect 6 per cent of the country's coastal urbanisation by the end of the century. In a scenario of one metre of sea level rising, the UAE would lose 1,155 sq km of its coast by 2050; nine metres of sea level rising would flood almost all of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
On a per-capita basis, the UAE's energy, water and carbon footprints are amongst the highest in the world. The hot and dry climate results in the use of a high amount of energy to create hospitable indoor environments. There is also a massive import of many goods that cannot be produced in the country.
Limited water sources
The UAE's natural freshwater sources are rare and limited to groundwater, pushing the government to distribute desalinated water. And while this may seem like a perfect solution due to the growing water shortage worldwide, this is far from energy-efficient as it consumes between three and four-kilowatt hours per 1,000 litres which equates to three times the amount of CO2 emissions generated in the treatment of river or groundwater.
The UAE's per-capita waste generation is among the world's highest, the majority of which ends up in landfills. Plus, the concept of green living (3Rs - reduce, reuse and recycle) isn't as heavily promoted or accommodated among the public.
Land degradation and desertification
Population growth and the exploitation of natural resources are key factors contributing to the increase in land degradation and desertification. Couple the two with the arid nature of the UAE and we have a region which is naturally not the most optimal at agricultural strides.
And on the land which is fertile, urban encroachment along with the intense use of pesticides and fertilisers and overgrazing are contributing to the deterioration of soil. Together, all these factors are creating a region which cannot independently provide agricultural resources to its full extent.
These are just five of the issues that the UAE is battling, and fiercely so as these pressures have motivated the government to take effective policy actions and to build scenarios and coordinated strategies to reduce any significant negative environmental impact.
Several programmes and initiatives have been launched in response to these issues, many of which are already in effect. These include Vision 2021, aiming for a sustainable environment and infrastructure, and the Masdar initiative which looks at renewable energy as well as tree planting and cultivation programmes nationwide.
"Given the alarming consequences of global warming that pose an important development challenge to many countries – the unusually high temperatures that are being recorded across the world, as well as fluctuating rainfall rates and increasing violent weather events – the UAE continues to exert significant efforts to reduce the impact of climate change and achieve sustainable economic growth.
Our leadership is committed to lessening carbon emissions, investing in clean and renewable energy projects, developing green cities and buildings and adapting to climate change through expanding green areas within the framework of the UAE Vision 2021," said His Excellency Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment.
“The UAE National Climate Change Plan 2050, adopted by the Cabinet in June 2017, developed an integrated national framework to unify efforts and to identify priorities, fill gaps and ensure cooperation between the public and private sectors to serve the country’s interests at the domestic and international levels. Such efforts once again validate our nation’s capacity to look ahead to conceptualize and implement solutions that benefit the global community at large. Initiatives such as the Annual Meetings of the UAE Government allow us to come together to offer relevant recommendations for the betterment of future generations,” he added.
At the time of publishing, the Emirates Environmental Group (EEG), a UAE-based professional working group dedicated to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the country, was two days away from hosting a panel discussion on 'Circular Economy: Bringing Waste Full Circle' to be held in association with the Arabia CSR Network, Emirates Green Building Council and the Clean Energy Business Council.
The event was meant to strengthen the information platform on circular economy in the UAE and bring together like-minded stakeholders from all the seven Emirates to discuss the coming moves from an economy based on extraction and consumption to one of regeneration and restoration.
“Based on the simple concepts of reducing waste, reusing materials and redesigning how we create value from products and services, the circular economy [is] a beacon for moving away from the take-make-dispose culture, presenting an opportunity for a sustainable and inclusive economy,” said Habiba Al Mar’ashi, Chairperson of the Emirates Environmental Group, on the UAE moving to adopt this movement.
"Overcoming the current extractive industrial model, it requires products to be designed-to-last but also designed for an easy end-of-life sorting, separation, reuse of materials and useful application of by-products and wastes. As evidence, the circular economy not only mitigates the negative environmental impacts but also brings about considerable cost savings, increases the competitiveness of the industries and delivers job opportunities," she added.
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