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AFED Conference 2019
Environment and development AL-BIA WAL-TANMIA Leading Arabic Environment Magazine

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Environmental Conservation in the UAE: An Authentic Cultural Heritage and Experience Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has prioritized the conservation of the environment and natural resources, both being integral to its national heritage, almost since the establishment of the federation in 1971. The founding father of the UAE, late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, considered the environment and sustainable development to be cornerstones of the nation’s progress.
In line with the rapid economic and social developments over the past four decades, the UAE has restructured and refined its environmental policies and plans in a strategic and well thought out manner. Sustainability is an essential component of all development plans, as reinforced by the UAE Vision 2021. Sustainability represents the ultimate goal and emphasizes the fundamental value of protecting the environment towards achieving the objectives of this vision.
Despite our efforts and achievements, increasing pressures and global challenges such as climate change, population growth, economic growth, change in land use and lifestyles have led us to seek an alternative approach that focuses on mitigating these pressures and limiting their impact.
As part of this approach, the adoption of renewable and clean energy in 2006 within the energy diversification policy was a major turning point. The UAE followed up on this revolutionary step with the early adoption of several game-changing environmental policies towards achieving a green economy, green architecture, sustainable transport and enhanced resource efficiency. The adoption of such policies is part of an ambitious national vision and a comprehensive government approach that prioritizes innovative technologies, solutions and best practices in a bid to make the UAE one of the most innovative countries in the world by 2021.
Clean Energy
The impact of these policies has not yet been fully demonstrated. However, it is safe to say that they have become an integral part of the UAE’s environmental landscape and we have begun to reap the rewards of these policies. In 2013, the UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, launched the Shams 1 Solar Power Station Project, the first concentrated solar energy project in the UAE that aims to generate 7% of Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy requirements by 2020. Furthermore, the first phase of the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Solar Energy Complex in Dubai was launched in October 2013 and the second phase in March 2017, which aim to contribute 7% of Dubai’s energy requirements by 2020, 25% by 2025 and 75% by 2050.
We have also established four nuclear power plants in Abu Dhabi with a capacity of 5.6 GW, which represents about 26% of the energy mix in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. These plants will start producing energy in stages for peaceful purposes between 2017 and 2020.
Following these successes, we aim to continue developing our plans and nurturing our ambitions by increasing the share of clean energy in the national energy mix from 24% to 27% by 2021 and 50% by 2050 as per the UAE Energy Strategy 2050, announced in January 2017.
Green Economy
Since its launch in 2012, we have taken important steps to put the UAE's Green Development Strategy into action. In 2015, the Cabinet adopted the Implementation Mechanism of the National Strategy and Green Agenda (2015-2030) and launched national action programs that we have begun to implement towards transforming the UAE’s national economy into a low-carbon green economy.
The green agenda is based on five key objectives, spread across 12 national programs and 31 sub-programs, designed to cover all key aspects of the UAE’s transition to a green economy. It includes technology, human capital, regulatory and financial environment, international trade, intellectual property, consumer awareness and integrated national planning.
In recognition of its pioneering role in this field and the dissemination of green economy concepts on a global scale, the UAE announced at the end of 2016 the establishment of the World Green Economy Organization, with the support of the Government of Dubai and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Furthermore, the government has announced the establishment of the Dubai Green Fund with a capital of AED 100 billion.
Climate Change
The policies I have referred to thus far are the key pillars of our efforts to mitigate climate change and achieve sustainable development. We are confident that the UAE National Climate Change Plan that we are currently in the process of finalizing will focus on broadening interest in green projects and practices in general and lead to innovative solutions to reduce emissions. It also aims to maintain economic growth and leverage clean energy applications in large energy-intensive industries such as power generation, desalination, carbon capture and storage technologies.
In 2015, we inaugurated our first renewable water desalination plant, and stepped-up our sustainability efforts by launching the first commercial carbon capture and storage project in 2016.
Sustainability of environmental systems and resources
Furthermore, the United Arab Emirates has strengthened its efforts to protect its environmental systems and resources and to develop environmental procedures and practices in various related areas, some of which are briefly explained below:
• Enhance air quality by developing more stringent controls and standards for activities affecting the quality of air, building a national air pollution monitoring network of 41 stations, developing monitoring tools that utilize modern technologies such as satellites and remotely monitor all activities that have a high impact on air quality. The UAE has also recently inaugurated the first central control room that leverages networking and TV monitoring for facilities operating in the country’s quarry fields.
• Strengthen national efforts to protect and develop biodiversity by expanding habitat rehabilitation and establishing more protected areas. Our stringent policy in this domain has led to an increase in the number of declared protected areas - from 19 in 2010 to 43 in 2016 - exceeding 14% of the country's total land bank that comes within the purview of protected areas. We have also enhanced our programs for the protection of endangered species and their proliferation and distribution across their natural habitats within and outside the UAE. We have achieved remarkable successes in this area, launching more than 1,750 falcons between 1995 and 2015, and over 200,000 Houbara Bustard birds as well as hundreds of Arabian oryx.
• Sustain the marine and coastal environment and their living resources, including protecting environmentally sensitive areas and enhancing their ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change, developing our capacity to monitor pollution incidents and changes in the marine environment, establishing more marine protected areas and synthetic armaments to provide suitable habitats for the protection and sustainability of marine life. We are truly privileged to maintain our first place ranking since 2012 in the Marine Protected Areas (EPI) Standard. We have successfully rehabilitated several coral reef areas and increased the area of ​​mangrove forests under cultivation from nearly 8,800 hectares in 1990 to more than 13,600 hectares in 2013.
• Develop the fish farming industry and promote private sector investment to increase its contribution and bridge the gap between supply and demand. The Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Marine Research Center, launched in Umm Al Quwain in 2014, is an important achievement in the field of aquaculture and in the development of marine environment research. Seamlessly integrating modern laboratories and technologies on the one hand and innovative practices on the other, it boasts our production capacity to 10 million economic fish per year.  
• Implement integrated waste management by focusing on reducing generated waste, expanding interest in the recycling industry - both quantitative and qualitative - including waste-to-energy conversion, improving waste collection and safe disposal of waste. The ongoing integrated waste management projects in Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah will boost our efforts to increase the proportion of treated waste to 75% by 2021 to meet the objectives of the UAE Vision 2021.
Future Plans
Today we are proud to highlight that our plans in the environment domain are founded on a rich heritage and experience spanning more than four decades - making us optimistic about the future and confident in our capacities to achieve our ultimate goals as a nation. These plans derive from our comprehensive national vision and ambitious objectives, including the UAE's Green Development Strategy 2014, the National Agenda of the UAE Vision 2021, the UAE Energy Strategy 2050, and the National Climate Change Plan that is already underway and factors in our commitments to international conventions as well as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030.
To implement these plans, in addition to our extensive experience and national capabilities in the field of environmental protection and development, we rely on the favorable conditions provided by the national strategies in the field of education, innovation, foresight and smart government. We also rely on the concerted efforts of all national institutions working in the field of environment, the development of partnership initiatives with the private sector, the academic community and civil society organizations, as well as the awareness of the members of the community and their environmental consciousness.
The UAE has already paved the way for collective environmental consciousness by conceptualizing and implementing sustainable environment policies and establishing national councils and committees, including the UAE Council for Climate Change and Environment, the Environmental Business Council and the UAE Sustainability Research Committee. We look forward to a day in the near future when we achieve our zero-carbon goal and as a nation have a minimal environmental impact on our planet.
Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi is Minister of Climate Change and Environment, United Arab Emirates
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