We all have a responsibility to protect our environment: UAE minister

Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri speaks about World Environment Day activities in the country and environmental protection efforts



UAE Minister for Climate Change and Environment Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri. — File photo
UAE Minister for Climate Change and Environment Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri. — File photo
by

Joydeep Sengupta

Published: Sat 4 Jun 2022, 11:44 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Jun 2022, 3:19 PM

Today, we observe World Environment Day that aims to encourage worldwide awareness and action to protect our environment.

This year, the occasion holds special importance because it marks 50 years since the 1972 United Nations (UN) Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm that is considered the first international meeting on the environment. The event spurred the formation of environment ministries and agencies around the world, kickstarted a host of new global agreements to protect the environment and paved the way for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister for Climate Change and Environment, gives us the lowdown on the World Environment Day activities in the country and the environmental protection efforts.

Excerpts from the interview:

How is the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) marking World Environment Day 2022, celebrated under the theme ‘Only One Earth’?

On Sunday, we hosted an event in partnership with the Fujairah Environment Authority, Fujairah Adventures Center and Emirates Diving Association (EDA) that engaged amateur divers in planting corals in Fujairah.

On Monday, we organised a mangrove-planting activity in Umm Al Quwain for schools and the general public in collaboration with the Department of Tourism and Archaeology and the Marine Environment Research Center in the emirate.

In addition, Shaemma Rashed, Climate Change Analyst at MOCCAE, participated in a virtual discussion on “Safety and Security of the Environment”.

Through our activities, we aim to drive home the message that we all have a responsibility to protect our environment in our own ways because we only have one planet – there is no Planet B.

What are the examples of the UAE’s animal conservation efforts?

We take pride in our track record of implementing effective wildlife breeding and reintroduction programmes to conserve endangered species, such as the houbara bustard, falcons, Arabian leopard, sand cat, Arabian oryx and Arabian tahr.

For example, the Arabian oryx had roamed remote areas around the world in large herds for centuries but overhunting and habitat loss contributed to a steep decline in its numbers, leading to the species being declared extinct in the wild in 2000. Urgent action was needed to guarantee its survival. We had the last five to seven of these in the wild captured to form the basis of a breeding programme that saved the entire species from extinction.

Today, the Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Arabian Oryx Reintroduction Programme releases hundreds of animals into protected areas every year, and the UAE is home to almost 7,000 Arabian oryx — the largest population of the species in the world.

Meanwhile, our International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC) is one of the largest species conservation projects in the world that seeks to restore sustainable numbers of houbara bustards in the UAE and other range countries. To date, the programme has bred almost 630,000 houbaras and released more than 487,000 into the wild.

On a global scale, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund has allocated over $23 million to support the conservation of more than 1,500 endangered species in 160 countries.

In terms of marine life conservation, we have deployed more than 5,000 artificial reefs, and are developing the Fujairah Cultured Coral Reef Gardens, the world’s largest coral nursery that will span around 300,000 square meters and will be home to 1.5 million corals.

We have also launched the Super Coral Project that brings various species of corals from their natural habitats and exposes them to extreme conditions with the aim of activating formerly idle genes that can help them cope with climate change. In addition, we have developed an innovative micro-fragmentation and fusion method that accelerates the growth of corals, which is normally slow in the wild.

To preserve some of our key marine species, we are implementing two national action plans — one for the conservation and management of the 43 shark species and 29 ray species recorded in the country, and the other for the conservation of marine turtles and their habitats in our territorial waters.

And to ensure the sustainability of our fish stocks, we have introduced fishing and trade bans on certain fish species during their breeding seasons. We are working closely with fishermen to help them understand the importance of complying with the ban to allow the fish to replenish their numbers.

To provide safe habitats for endangered species, we continue to expand our protected areas. We currently have 49 protected areas that account for 15.5 percent of our country’s territory and are in the process of rounding this number up to 50.

And what is the country doing to protect its flora?

We develop and implement programmes aimed at rehabilitation and restoration of our natural habitats, including planting of native tree species, such as mangrove, acacia and ghaf. One notable project used drones to disperse six million acacia seeds and 250,000 ghaf seeds across large areas in 25 locations to help restore degraded ecosystems and protect our natural resources.

At the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) last year in Glasgow, we announced an increase in our mangrove-planting target to 100 million by 2030.

With the aim of providing a comprehensive knowledge base and evoking an interest in indigenous flora among the public, the MOCCAE has launched Gheras, an online portal and app that feature detailed information about local plant species in Arabic and English, such as the degree of threat, how to cultivate them and where to obtain seeds. In addition, they include an algorithm that calculates the amount of carbon sequestration planting each species can achieve, which helps involve the community in mitigating the impact of climate change. The Gheras app is available for free download on the App Store and Google Play, and the portal can be accessed at https://portal.moccae.gov.ae/gherasuae/.

To ensure our plant gene pool is preserved and can be reproduced in nature, we are currently establishing the Abu Dhabi Plant Genetic Resources Centre (Gene Bank) that will be the largest in the region with a capacity to store 20,000 samples once completed later this year.

Furthermore, the Khalifa Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (KCGEB) studies the flora of the region with the aim of generating scientific knowledge to address global challenges related to food security and sustainable agricultural practices through genomics, genetic engineering and biotechnological innovation.

Meanwhile, the Sharjah Seed Bank and Herbarium safeguards the country’s flora by building plant and seed collections, and conducting genetic diversity studies, DNA barcoding and capacity building for seed banking, seed science and molecular genetic research.

How do you decide on which species to focus?

Our biodiversity and ecosystem conservation efforts are guided by the National Biodiversity Strategy that is currently being updated to factor in the latest developments related to environmental challenges and the means to address them.

In March 2020, we also unveiled the results of the UAE National Red List project in cooperation with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This is a collaborative effort between the MOCCAE, the local government authorities across the country, experts from public and private universities, the private sector and non-governmental organisations.

The project evaluates the risk of extinction for 1,167 animal and plant species in the country, identifies endangered species, and maps their distribution. The results show that 60 per cent of shark and ray species, 53 percent of bird species, 46.7 per cent of mammal species and 43 per cent of coral species in the UAE are threatened with extinction.

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The high rate of endangered species urges us to raise the bar on protecting wildlife, preserving ecosystems and conserving natural resources, and the outcomes of the UAE National Red List project inform our efforts in this space.

From another side of the environmental protection spectrum, last year saw the launch of the UAE Net Zero by 2050 Strategic Initiative that lays out the country’s roadmap for carbon emission reduction.

What is the MOCCAE doing to increase sectoral participation in this pioneering effort in the region?

In May, we launched two initiatives that support this objective. The first is a monthly assembly for priority sectors, called the National Dialogue for Climate Ambition (NDCA), that seeks to raise sectoral climate ambition and remove any potential roadblocks. The series of events is modelled on the Emirati majlis, a traditional gathering that brings together community members to consult one another on local issues. These stakeholder dialogues, dedicated to a different sector every month, will help us design our net-zero pathway, outline ways to hit our targets, and create an enabling ecosystem for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Recognising that circular economy is a vital part of our decarbonisation efforts, we also kicked off the Dynamics of Circularity Series (DCS) in partnership with the Government Accelerators. The periodic stakeholder assembly aims to share knowledge, build capacities and explore opportunities to implement circular economy practices across carbon-intensive sectors.


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