Interview: Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri

What steps are being taken to maximise efficiency throughout the emirate’s agro-related activities?

SHAIKHA AL DHAHERI: Improving efficiency requires curbing both over-irrigation of crops and over-extraction from groundwater wells. In order to reduce the former, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi created guidelines on irrigation levels, supported by extensive research into the exact water requirements of a wide range of crops. To prevent over-extraction, the government approved a new law in 2016, which established a metering system on all wells so that we could better monitor extraction and manage this scare resource.

It is also important to remember that groundwater is not the only source of water that Abu Dhabi utilises. By increasing our supply of treated sewage effluent water we can reduce our reliance on groundwater. For example, we have begun a programme to reuse 380,000 cu metres of treated sewage effluent water for a range of non-human consumption needs in the forestry and agriculture sectors.

Which opportunities will arise as result of the Sustainable Aquaculture Policy, and how is research into more sustainable practices progressing?

AL DHAHERI: As is the case across most of the globe, Abu Dhabi has exploited roughly 90% of its wild fish stock to date. In addition to regulating the wild fishing market through the introduction of bans on fishing nets and cages for wild stock, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi hopes to promote sustainable aquaculture farming as an alternative to wild fishing. We have already begun researching possible locations for sustainable land-based and sea-based aquaculture sites that are open to private sector investors. Hydrodynamic modelling has enabled us to predict the lifespans of each of these sites by forecasting at what point the soil will become too saturated with nutrients to remain a viable aquaculture site. We are already seeing positive results, with aquaculture production having increased by 20% at the end of 2018 compared to the two previous years.

How is Abu Dhabi working to limit the overall consumption of single-use plastics?

AL DHAHERI: In March 2020 the government approved Abu Dhabi Single Use Plastic Policy. The policy has been developed in consultation with private sector partners and over 2700 respondents to a public survey on the issue. This policy involves introducing a ban on single-use plastic bags and new levies on cups and lids, cutlery, plates and stirrers, while providing sustainable alternatives. All government agencies will also be required to implement a single-use plastic-free policy in all their offices and operations. The aim is to make Abu Dhabi free of single-use plastic bags in 2021. The policy will also introduce an incentive-based bottle return scheme with the aim to recover 50% of bottles currently discarded as waste.

Can you elaborate on Abu Dhabi’s role in the fight against climate change in the region?

AL DHAHERI: Abu Dhabi aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by the year 2050. The completion of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant alone – which will be fully operational in 2022 – should see the emirate’s greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 25%. Further reductions will be made possible thanks to the use of emission-mitigating technologies, such as carbon capture technologies, which are promoted in the gas industry. These technologies have the benefit of limiting emissions, while also reducing costs for producers by reintroducing what was once waste back into the production process. The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi is also working with the Abu Dhabi Department of Municipalities and Transport on incentives to develop electric transport. These include possible subsidies for the purchase of electric cars and the construction of car charging stations.