GREEN DAYS

UAE, Abu Dhabi 2014 | ENERGY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD), on tackling the environmental issues produced by a developing nation.

HE Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak
BIOGRAPHY
HE Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak leads the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi in achieving its mandate of protecting the environment by reducing pollution and enhancing the Emirate’s biodiversity. She is also the Managing Director of the Emirates Wildlife Society in association with the WWF (EWS-WWF) as well as the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. She serves on the boards of the Global Footprint Network, African Wildlife Foundation, and the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort. She is also a member of the Board of Advisors of Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Understanding of Environmental Change from the University College London, UK and a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and International Relations from Tufts University, Massachusetts.

Looking across the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, we see mega projects everywhere and your agency is tasked with protecting the environment in the face of this development. What does this entail from your side?

We at the Environment Agency–Abu Dhabi (EAD) aim to ensure that development goes hand-in-hand with environmental conservation. I think that the process of maintaining this delicate balance entails three major components: anticipation, permission, and enforcement. To achieve this, EAD works toward obtaining a strong base of scientific data, raising awareness among relevant target audiences, and subsequently employing effective regulation, as well as monitoring and enforcement. Anticipation is a key principal that guides planning, and environmental planning is one of the core components of Abu Dhabi's development agenda. Our leadership created the Environment and Infrastructure Committee under the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, and our work at EAD is directly linked to theirs. Working to have the necessary infrastructure for development is extremely important from an environmental perspective. For example, anticipation with reference to the demand and supply of utilities and sewerage is extremely important in driving proper infrastructure preparedness. If you lack a proper sewerage system or storm system, the environment, particularly the marine environment, will suffer.

Another interesting project in this area is that of solar desalination. How are you implementing this in the remote areas of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi?

Biodiversity conservation is at the heart of EAD's mission. EAD manages an extensive network of protected areas that are a breeding ground for valuable indigenous species. For example, we have an internationally recognised Arabian Oryx breeding program that has successfully reintroduced this species into the wild. However, this species, and other desert-dwelling indigenous species such as sand and mountain gazelles, have been affected by climate change and decreased natural vegetation, and so we need to lend nature a helping hand. Many of these animals' habitats are extremely remote and have extremely salty groundwater supplies, whereby innovation and R&D are needed to support an environmentally efficient solution to ensure their sustainability. Our plan is to use solar power to desalinate the existing groundwater and provide an oasis-style environment for local biodiversity. We are currently managing 26 sites following a successful pilot scheme. There have been challenges: some of the areas are difficult to access and sand storms are common. It has proven to be a highly useful exercise in water management technology, and also in mapping our Emirate's geography. We continue to learn more about, and fine-tune, this new water management technology which is allowing our biodiversity to flourish again and is creating new habitats in one of the harshest climates on earth.

How does the EAD work both here and regionally to arrest the effects of climate change?

The EAD invests in scientific research and one of our priorities is understanding the effects of, and mitigating against, climate change. One of our most established programmes is the Blue Carbon Project. This project, run in collaboration with the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) and the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI), was set up in 2002 to study the ability of mangroves in the UAE to absorb CO2 emissions, making it possibly the oldest climate change-linked research study in the region. The EAD has launched an initiative to compile a Greenhouse Gas Inventory, which is a scientific study analysing the Emirate's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.