Interview: Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak
In what ways is data being harnessed to address Abu Dhabi’s environmental challenges?
RAZAN KHALIFA AL MUBARAK: To ensure the environment’s protection, it is first important to address environmental metrics and scientific data across the areas we monitor: namely air quality, ground and marine water quality, species, habitats, land degradation and fisheries. We must gather and harness data to be able to study and understand the impact of Abu Dhabi’s economic development and diversification on the environment, and establish policy and regulatory decisions that are effective, both at the local and global level. Sometimes this information is gathered using satellite imagery or obtained directly from the various entities we regulate.
Groundwater and water conservation are big priorities for Abu Dhabi, and indeed the region. Nowadays, 65% of our overall consumption comes from groundwater, and therefore it is critical that we take a closer look at the sector. Given that around 95% of our use of groundwater focuses on two areas, agriculture and forestry, it is essential to know where consumers are located to develop the right policy. To this end, we have an extensive observation framework of groundwater monitoring stations across the emirate, giving us up-to-date information that enables quality policy decisions. Similarly, in the area of fisheries, today four key species are being fished at five times their sustainable rate, and without understanding population dynamics it is challenging not only to implement the necessary policies, but also to engage with fishers and other stakeholders.
Moving forward, the environment faces a number of challenges. Air quality is an issue we are monitoring closely because of its effect on human health, so we are expanding our air monitoring stations and ensuring our standards are rigorous and stand the test of time. Marine water quality is another challenge for any coastal country, from a food security perspective and for tourism. Therefore, we are working with our partners to ensure that our marine water quality standards exceed expectations.
How has the regulatory framework evolved to support a diversifying economy?
AL MUBARAK: From a very early stage, the notion of sustainable development in Abu Dhabi has been at the forefront of the government’s thinking. As part of the diversification of the emirate, we have observed a significant increase in the number and types of industries developing, and it is, therefore, crucial to ensure that we can regulate emerging sectors. Regulation, however, does not come easy; not only do we need to understand a given sector, but we also need to engage with its stakeholders to put measures in place. For example, we have partnered with various entities to monitor their carbon emissions to foster a sense of responsibility. This creates a more engaging relationship with the private sector, and not merely one of the governor and the governed.
We also need to look at our long-term regulatory framework to ensure legislation is on a par with the types of industries that are emerging and the types of development undertaken. For example, over the years we have issued more than 3000 licences across a wide array of sectors from power to cement, and ceramics to steel, all of which reflect Abu Dhabi’s diversification, as well as the many ongoing real estate coastal development programmes.
Creating synergies with industry is vital to ensuring the diversification of the emirate. A major way we have pursued this has been to address the issue of climate change. To reduce emissions across the emirate, we need to work with the energy sector to develop alternative waste and power sources. That is why we have developed a partnership for our new nuclear development to ensure it complies with both existing environmental laws and those of the future.
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