Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General of Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi
Protecting Abu Dhabi’s Environment and Biodiversity Through a Holistic Policy and Rigorous Standards
In an interview with Global Platform, Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary-General of Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, speaks on how the Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi, and its partners work to protect the environment and to ensure sustainable development in the emirate. The issue of water conservation is one of the priority areas for Abu Dhabi – and indeed the entire region, and as a coastal country, marine water quality is vital both from a food security perspective and also from a tourism viewpoint. As the emirate welcomes more industry, the agency is cooperating with key stakeholders to ensure that the environmental regulations are up to par with the type of development that is taking place.
From the very early stage this notion of sustainability and the importance of sustainable development in the development of Abu Dhabi was very much at the forefront of the thinking of the leadership. We work on protecting our air, our land, our sea, as well as working on protecting our biodiversity, both species and habitat, through a very rigorous monitoring and scientific programme, all underpinned by a holistic policy and regulatory framework. Groundwater and the issue of water conservation is a big priority area for the emirate of Abu Dhabi, and indeed the region. Sixty-five percent of our water consumption – overall water consumption – comes from groundwater, but 95% of our use of groundwater is basically focused on two areas: agriculture and forestry. This type of direction and knowledge of where the water consumers are help us put in the right policy and framework. Today we have an observation framework of around 300,000 groundwater-monitoring wells across the emirate of Abu Dhabi, giving us up-to-date information to enable policy decisions. Similarly, in the area of fisheries, today there are 40 species that are being fished at five times their sustainable rate. You have got the hamour, the ghanat, the fesh and the shari. Without knowing and understanding population dynamic, it becomes very difficult not only to put in the necessary policy and regulatory tools but also to engage with the stakeholders and the fishermen. It is very important for us to not only understand the scientific information but marry the scientific information with local knowledge, and that is an incredible strength. With the diversification of Abu Dhabi emirate we have observed a major increase in the number and types of industry that Abu Dhabi is now welcoming. So it is very important to ensure that we are able to regulate the sector. Regulation does not come easy. We need to understand the sector but really engage and use the sector in helping us put regulations in place. With the respect to the issue of the environment, we need to look at it at a much longer time frame. So we have been working with our stakeholders on a 20-30-year time frame to make sure that our regulations are up to par with the type of industry that is coming in – and indeed the type of development. Some of the ground-breaking programmes that we have graduated from the local to the global include our programme on the Arabian oryx. After reintroducing this iconic species in Abu Dhabi and the UAE, we have extended our reach to the neighbouring countries, and the original range of the Arabian oryx from Jordan to Saudi Arabia to Oman. Our experience of this project has enabled us to look at a global programme of the reintroduction of the scimitar-horned oryx in Chad. Moving forward, the environment faces a number of challenges. Issues to do with air quality is something that we really have our finger on the pulse because of its effect on human health. So we are expanding our air-monitoring stations, we are ensuring that our standards are rigorous. Marine water quality is another challenge that we are working on together with our partners because being a coastal country, the marine environment is extremely important both from a food security perspective but also as a tourism destination. So we are working with our partners to ensure that our marine water quality is not only up to par but even better than that. Despite the environmental challenges that we are facing, I really do believe that the future is bright. The Environment Agency has built very strong foundations of knowledge, people and public support, and with those three pillars I know and I am sure that we can address these challenges that people face. We really do believe that in preserving our heritage we protect our future.