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Earth Day: EAD pioneers environmental conservation efforts in Abu Dhabi

Earth Day: EAD pioneers environmental conservation efforts in Abu Dhabi
22 Apr 2024 08:33


The world observes Earth Day 2024 on April 22, turning its focus to the urgent battle against plastic pollution, with a rallying cry for a 60% reduction in plastic production by 2040. This year’s global theme, “Planet vs. Plastics”, underscores the growing recognition of plastics’ threat to human health and the environment. As campaigners push for a plastic-free future, organisations like the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) are stepping up efforts to protect the planet.

In a recent interview with Aletihad, Acting Director of the Environmental Awareness Department, Environmental Information, Science, and Outreach Management at the EAD, Rasha Ali Al Madfai, delved into the EAD’s impactful initiatives, innovative strategies, and unwavering commitment to environmental conservation.

Limiting Single-use Plastics

As part of its “core mandate”, the EAD works closely with the government to shape and inform policies and regulations, focused on protecting Abu Dhabi’s biodiversity and enhancing the environment, Al Madfai noted.

Targeted measures are continuously being introduced in key areas, such as single-use plastics, fisheries, biodiversity, and climate change, with several forthcoming initiatives aimed at addressing these priorities, she said, stressing the importance of community engagement to amplify their impact.

“A big part of what we do at the Agency is to inform, inspire and influence through community engagement – we are able to amplify the impact of our work with the support of the public. This is especially important when it comes to the issue of single-use plastics … instead of consuming single-use plastic bags at the supermarket, bring your own reusable bags. Decline a straw when it is offered at a restaurant. Bring metal utensils when out for a picnic and wash them when you get home. These small changes can have a big impact!,” added Al Madfai.

Pressing Environmental Challenges, Mitigation Strategies

Al Madfai further underscored the urgent need to address pressing environmental challenges, including air and marine water quality, biodiversity loss, depleted fish stocks, diminishing groundwater resources, and climate change.

“The concentration of population and economic activities in coastal spaces is not only contributing to the loss of critical coastal habitats; climate change will have a major impact on the emirate’s coasts, particularly through rising sea levels, exacerbating coastal vulnerability. The challenge of climate change is perhaps the greatest one we face in that it appears a long way off and requires global effort to address,” she said.

Al Madfai further emphasised that factors like population growth, economic development, lifestyle preferences, and technological choices are driving the demand for resources. She stressed the necessity to intensify research efforts to determine the impact of these factors and formulate appropriate responses. She also advocated for a heightened commitment from both businesses and individuals to adopt sustainable practices in production and consumption.

Biodiversity Conservation, Ecosystem Health

Biodiversity conservation emerges as a fundamental component of the EAD’s mission, essential for ecosystem health and human well-being, Al Madfai said.

She underscored the invaluable services provided by diverse species and habitats, emphasising the critical role of protected areas in safeguarding biodiversity for future generations.

“Species and habitats, both in terrestrial and marine areas, are vital for our survival and wellbeing. Species play important roles as pollinators, seed dispersers and disease controllers. Healthy and well-functioning terrestrial and marine ecosystems are not only vital for food security but are also critically important for human health and wellbeing.

“Without the myriad of species and their roles as biocontrol agents, humans would be much more exposed to diseases. The importance of biodiversity protection, even within urban areas, is being increasingly recognised, given the importance of such areas for ecotourism and awareness. Well-conserved biodiversity is also important for spiritual, aesthetic and health benefits, including mental well-being,” she said.

The network of protected areas established by the EAD ensures the long-term survival of species, preserves their habitats, and maintains vital ecosystem services for future generations, Al Madfai noted, stressing the necessity of expanding protected areas to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, which pose an “existential threat” to humankind.

Local Community Engagement

Al Madfai stressed that the EAD actively engages with the local community to raise awareness about environmental issues and encourage sustainable practices.

“Engaging with the local community plays a pivotal role in achieving our mission: To protect the environment and promote sustainability, through innovative environmental management, and impact-oriented policies and regulations, in collaboration with our partners and the broader community,” she said

Through initiatives like the “naha”, an environmental digital engagement platform, launched at the end of last year, the EAD empowers youth and community members to translate climate intentions into actions, Al Madfai noted.

“The platform aims to promote sustainability, elevate environmental awareness and encourage green practices through a range of initiatives and programmes. While some of the programmes under this platform are educational, others aim to provide an opportunity for the local community to take action in conserving the environment.”

These initiatives include Sahim – Citizen Science – which aims to strengthen community involvement, paving the way for citizen engagement in scientific research in the UAE. Volunteers contribute by collecting data on topics such as single-use plastics and waste, aligning with national sustainability objectives, according to Al Madfai.

Youth as Agents of Change Al Madfai noted that the EAD is committed to involving youth and future generations in environmental conservation efforts by inspiring and empowering them to take proactive steps toward sustainability.
“As changemakers of tomorrow, young community members are key in shaping the future of our planet and we pledge to empower and support them in successfully protecting our environment,” she said.

Al Madfai highlighted as an example the Green Youth Majlis initiative, a quarterly forum under the Sustainable Campus Initiative, aims to empower youth aged 18-35 to drive environmental action and innovation. “With over 600 current members, the Majlis equips youth with the tools to become agents of societal change, offering training that accelerates the accomplishment of Abu Dhabi’s environmental goals”.

Success Stories, Impactful Projects

Al Madfai provided an overview of the agency’s recent milestone as the host of the 12th World Environment Education Congress (WEEC) in Abu Dhabi. With over 3,000 attendees, the event unveiled “The Abu Dhabi Roadmap”, a comprehensive plan aimed at reinforcing global recommendations for environmental education and sustainable development. This roadmap encompasses critical measures addressing climate change, waste management, and biodiversity loss, with actionable steps for adoption by nations and communities worldwide.

“Regarding Abu Dhabi’s execution plan, the EAD will play an active role adapting key initiatives such as the Greening Education Partnership with UNESCO, while also extending local initiatives such as the Sustainable Schools Initiative to include all educational institutions. These endeavours will encompass advocating for circular practices and enforcing actions such as the recent prohibition on single-use plastics, accompanied by awareness campaigns aimed at fostering behavioural shifts,” she said.

Innovation in Environmental Conservation

Al Madfai affirmed that innovation lies at the heart of EAD’s approach to environmental conservation, driving its efforts to find sustainable solutions to complex challenges. She highlighted the Agency’s commitment to fostering a culture of innovation, leveraging modern technologies, and implementing pioneering initiatives to realise the UAE’s vision for a green and technologically advanced future.

“This approach has empowered us to fulfill our role effectively and efficiently by embracing the latest technologies, conducting comprehensive research, and understanding biodiversity. We continuously monitor ecosystems, species, and environmental indicators, relying on cutting-edge science, modern technologies, innovative solutions, and technical expertise,” she continued.

Al Madfai added that the digitisation of business processes and the creation of online public services align with EAD’s objective of supporting their role as the region’s foremost environmental regulator.

Looking ahead to 2024, she stated: “We will persist in exploring the latest technologies and digital tools, and adopting international best practices to sustain our leadership position and pioneering role in environmental conservation and sustainability. We are committed to keeping pace with the UAE’s remarkable progress, known for its boundary-breaking advancements in modernity, innovation, and invention.”

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