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Sat 3 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Leave only footprints

The UAE environment and water minister on how to reduce the country's ecological footprint.

The UAE retains its position as the nation with the largest ecological footprint per capita in the WWF's biennial Living Planet Report, released towards the end of 2008. UAE environment and water minister HE Dr Rashid Ahmad bin Fahad tells us what needs to be done.

The UAE's Ecological Footprint has shown an improvement since the 2006 Living Planet report from 11.9 to 9.5 global hectares per capita. How was this achieved?

It is difficult to compare the results from the 2006 and 2008 Living Planet Reports. The result has changed because the UAE has contributed more robust data to the calculation and because of methodological changes introduced by the Global Footprint Network to the calculation of the footprint, which have affected all nations, not just the UAE.

The Al Basama Al Beeiya initiative was launched in the UAE in October 2007 to better understand the nation's ecological footprint. How much progress has been made?

The initiative represents a successful coalition between the federal and local governments, civil society and local and international research institutions in understanding the UAE's footprint better and thereby providing a more robust representation of our demand on natural resources. This has led to improved understanding of our current consumption patterns and the trends that are placing increasing pressure on global resources.

Phase two of the Initiative will aim to verify the remaining components of the UAE's footprint and also to break down the carbon component into sectoral contributions, which constitute 80% of our footprint. With such information, we will be able to identify future trends in our footprint and to start developing appropriate policies for reduction.

Is such a pro-active approach a global trend among nations?

The Al Basama Al Beeiya Initiative made us the third country in the world to take up research on its footprint. We reviewed data on UAE population and the carbon footprint component and actively collaborated in the calculation of the UAE footprint for the Living Planet Report 2008. The information that the footprint provides us with can help us plan and make decisions that ensure more efficient resource consumption and help reduce our footprint.

What steps will the UAE take over the next two years to ensure improvement in its footprint size?

The UAE has undertaken several initiatives that can help reduce our footprint, such as Masdar, development of green building codes, public transport, hybrid vehicles and Metro by Dubai RTA, development of a zero gas flaring policy by ADNOC and carbon capture and storage initiatives by ADNOC and Masdar.

How much difference can these initiatives make?

Their success in reducing our ecological footprint will depend on their effective implementation and their expansion into the wider development of the UAE. This will require time and a coordinated effort at all levels. Successful capacity building programmes as well as public education and awareness campaigns will also add value and longevity to these initiatives.

To what extent can individual behavioural patterns assist with reducing the UAE's footprint?

Each of us has a responsibility to ensure we reduce our demand for natural resources and improve efficiency in the use of these resources in all of our activities. As the government, we are looking at developing a federally coordinated strategic policy framework that encourages such changes in behavior.

The UAE has a high energy use per capita due to the climate, with air conditioning and energy-intensive water desalination plants in abundance. Should the UAE be looking towards renewable energy for use in the future?

The UAE wants to adopt the best suited and effective energy options from a basket of technologies. While clean technologies and renewable energy options have an important role, we also need to tackle energy demand through programmes that promote energy efficiency and minimise waste.

Several positive steps have been taken by institutions on development of renewable energy such as solar, geothermal and wind. Our position is to continue working with government bodies, the private sector, and civil society to facilitate and reinforce their interest in embracing renewable technologies and actively support and even incentivise such enterprise for wider adoption in the UAE.

For example, we know that initiatives like Estidama, LEED certification and Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company are incorporating renewables into their developments. Their successful efforts will serve as a blueprint for all developments in the UAE.

Is nuclear energy an option that the UAE should consider due to its substantial predicted growth in future energy demand?

The UAE is considering nuclear energy as outlined in the document released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Policy of the United Arab Emirates on the evaluation and potential development of peaceful nuclear energy. This evaluation was motivated by the need to develop additional sources of electricity to meet future demand projections and to ensure the continued rapid development of its economy.

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