SHAIKHA SALEM AL DHAHERI

Abu Dhabi 2021 | GREEN ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Secretary General of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), about being the largest environmental regulator in the Middle East and protecting and preserving the Emirate's natural resources while promoting sustainable development.

The property development field has seen enhanced emphasis on environment sustainability in light of the pandemic. How do you evaluate developers' response thus far?

Environmental sustainability standards and guidelines for property development have been in existence for many years now, with BREEAM in the UK, LEED in the US, and Estidama in the UAE. These standards focus mainly on energy and water efficiency in the design of buildings. Here in Abu Dhabi we focus more on water efficiency, hence the need for our own home-grown sustainable building standard called Estidama. However, with the pandemic the move to home-based working for many has highlighted the need for even greater energy-efficient buildings. Home-schooling has highlighted to many parents the need for space for their kids to let off steam, even if it is merely a small backyard or garden. Families have begun to see the value of that spare bedroom that you can convert into an office or playroom for the kids. Furthermore, people are no longer going to the cinema, shops, or restaurants; instead, they are staying at home and watching, shopping, and ordering food online. Balancing the demand for retail space might only be a temporary adjustment, and we believe property developers will be watching this space very closely. Going forward, it is likely that certain aspects of the pandemic may be with us for a long time. For example, social distancing means we need more space, less density, separate entrances—all of which have implications for property developers. Ventilation and the need for improved HVAC systems to give us better, cleaner air with less possibility of transmission will also be of importance, in addition to improved fit-outs and finishing to make sterilization and cleansing easier and more effective. These are all aspects of our lives that going forward may well influence property developers and the properties that they build.

How do current events underscore the importance of your MoU with ADNOC to further integrate environmental sustainability into their activities and strategy?

Through the MoU, EAD, and ADNOC have collaborated to ensure implementation of federal and local approved environmental policies, regulations, and strategic plans and to integrate environmental and sustainability initiatives and priorities within ADNOC's strategic plans. Additionally, EAD and ADNOC continue to assess environmental impacts of oil and gas projects and operations that may have an impact on protected areas and sensitive habitats. ADNOC is committed to providing experts in the field of oil and gas to support EAD in conducting joint research or development and assessments of new regulatory instruments. We are also collaborating in the field of environmental monitoring and knowledge sharing. One example is the linking of ADNOC's ambient air quality monitoring station to EAD's monitoring network. The team is also working on linking ADNOC's stack continuous emission monitoring systems to EAD's network.

As the region's largest environmental regulator, how are you capitalizing on this and further contributing to Abu Dhabi's prominence?

Though we are a local Abu Dhabi agency and our focus is environmental work in Abu Dhabi, we also always ensure that our work goes beyond borders and this helps put us on the global map. A prime example of this is that we pioneered the world's largest re-introduction program that aims to bring the Oryx back from the brink of extinction. The growing number of Arabian Oryx across the range of states in the Arabian Peninsula led to the species being downlisted from 'endangered' to 'vulnerable' on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2011. We have also undertaken initiatives to help protect the dolphins that live in Abu Dhabi's waters, including the Indian Ocean humpback dolphin, of which the capital is home to the highest number in the world. We are consistently following global trends, and all our work uses the latest technology and scientific principles and methods, allowing us to be aligned with the rest of the world in terms of the conservation of the environment.