Interview: Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak

In light of rapid industrialisation, what measures are in place to ensure the effective implementation of environmental standards and regulations?

RAZAN AL MUBARAK: EAD does not just regulate industry during the development and operational stages, but also advises the government during the critical planning phase of projects. Preventive action at the onset is far more effective than corrective action after the fact. This entails understanding the carrying capacity of the environment, as well as the symbiotic relationship between the health of an economy and that of the natural environment. Our policies should ultimately be based on balancing development and environmental protection. With that in mind, EAD is mandated to develop standards and regulations to limit emissions within the overall carrying capacity of the environment. EAD has an internationally benchmarked monitoring programme for air and marine quality as well as initiatives to determine the health of habitats and species. This knowledge, as well as engagement with universities and industry experts, provides warning signs if development is leading to deterioration in the environment and helps us to direct mitigating actions. We also issue environmental permits and inspect facilities to ensure they are in compliance. In 2012 we issued 1427 environmental permits, 1797 for groundwater wells and 259 for chemical traders. We conducted 676 inspections of facilities and 133 of groundwater wells to ensure compliance, and the average number of violations in 2012 was 12. We are finding that facilities understand our requirements and are taking steps to address violations, and as a result the number of violations per inspection is falling. In the next year we will start to use a risk assessment tool to help us prioritise inspections of the facilities that pose the greatest risk.

To what extent will the application of technology and innovation improve water usage efficiency?

AL MUBARAK: Water used by industry comprises only 2% of total desalinated water consumed in Abu Dhabi, so it is not a priority for us at present. By far the biggest consumer of water is agriculture, which uses around 70% of the total; over 90% of this is groundwater. We are working with the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority and the Farmers’ Service Centre to improve water efficiency on farms. Initiatives include revision of policies, laws and regulations; the introduction of new technologies; research and expansion into new types of agriculture such as hydroponics and agriculture using saline water; as well as on-farm awareness and training. We are also looking to make the best use of recycled water to take the pressure off limited groundwater reserves. With this range of measures we are aiming to reduce water use in the sector by more than 40%.

How will the introduction of air quality standards ensure emissions are managed effectively?

AL MUBARAK: Air quality standards in Abu Dhabi are set at a level to protect human health. In some cases the World Health Organisation standards have been adopted directly and in others specific standards have been set for Abu Dhabi. Over the next year we will be conducting a worldwide review of ambient air quality standards, and industry-specific standards which will work with ambient standards. This will be complemented with a cost-benefit analysis to help us target our regulations. The combination of setting the right standards and routine air quality monitoring against those standards helps us identify the right interventions.

Air quality in Abu Dhabi is influenced by a complex mix of high background levels of naturally occurring particle matter resulting from the arid desert environment, air pollutants that are transported over large distances from outside of Abu Dhabi and domestic emission. Our interventions mainly focus on the emissions that are within our control, such as those from industry, power generation and traffic within the emirate. Minimising emissions will help us to maintain a good standard of air quality, which in turn will help protect human health, the environment and the economy.