UAE, ABU DHABI - Diplomacy
Secretary General, Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD)
Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri is the Secretary General of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), the largest environmental regulator in the Middle East, responsible for protecting and preserving our natural resources and promoting sustainable development in the emirate. Dr. Al Dhaheri holds a PhD degree in Wildlife Conservation and Protection from the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom, which makes her the first Emirati woman to earn the accolade. She also holds two Masters degrees: in Environmental Science from UAE University (UAEU) in Al Ain, and another in Biological Conservation From the University of Kent in the United Kingdom. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Species from UAEU.
The Agency is concerned about the shift in the energy mix as it impacts energy decarbonisation. This shift is driven by policy directions that are in line with the UAE’s ‘Pathways to Net Zero by 2050’ initiative. Both organisations are working very closely together to reduce emissions from the energy sector, as well as on enhancing the sector’s resilience to the impacts of climate change. Recently, we have been engaged with DOE in defining our commitment in Abu Dhabi towards achieving Net Zero through tangible projects that will enhance energy efficiency and substantially reduce energy-related emissions. In 2022, I had the pleasure to participate in the DOE’s announcement of the “Clean Energy Strategic Target 2035 for Electricity Production in Abu Dhabi”. It is a regulatory framework for the region’s first legally binding clean and renewable energy target for the electricity sector. The target is to produce 60 per cent of all electricity using clean energy sources by 2035. At EAD, we continue to work closely with 26 Abu Dhabi entities, including DOE, as members of ‘the Abu Dhabi Climate Change Taskforce’ to develop strategic plans to achieve this great shift in Abu Dhabi’s energy mix.
Our operations are aligned with our mandate to protect biodiversity and Abu Dhabi’s environment in general. Our five-year strategy and strategic priorities reflect our mandate and provide links to all our programmes and operations. We undertake extensive survey and monitoring to document the presence of species and continue to monitor important species and their habitats, both within protected areas as well as outside them. This is fundamental to the understanding of our biological resources and their status and distribution. We ensure important and threatened species and their habitats are included in our protection programs, especially within our network of Protected Areas, another key part of our mandate. Quite often, establishing protected areas is not enough; we must develop policies, regulations, and guidelines to further protect them. Building partnerships and engaging with key stakeholders in the development of policies and regulation ensures necessary support from the relevant government and private sectors. We also have an extensive and ongoing education and outreach program to raise awareness on biodiversity, allowing people to connect with nature and, more importantly, creating a sense of appreciation for nature and natural resources. All these help us protect Abu Dhabi’s biodiversity and go a long way in preserving the quality of life and creating a better environment for all.
Being the largest environmental regulator in the region brings added responsibilities and expectations. We are conscious of that; however, we are also conscious of our larger goals and responsibilities: to protect our biodiversity, soil, air, and water resources and to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts. We are constantly developing policies and regulations that are helping us improve our environment. A well protected environment has significant human health and well-being benefits besides economic development opportunities, centered around environment and biodiversity. Our efforts to protect our environment through a range of pioneering initiatives have been instrumental in our growth as an organization over the past 25 years. To me being the largest is not just a reflection on the size of the organization, but more on delivery on the environmental and biodiversity fronts, not only in the region but globally as well. Our successes also ensured full support and commitment from our leadership and our government. We have cemented our position in the eyes of the public, government and community, based on our performance in protecting Abu Dhabi’s environment. All of these have given the confidence and sense of environmental security to the wider community, whom we see as the most important stakeholders.
There was more than one aim to this project, but the main one was to plant mangroves and restore habitats with technology playing a larger and more significant role, such as using drones and drone surveys. The technology helped us to map the area and look at its potential in a more efficient manner. This brings us to another important fact, which is that using the drones to drop seeds has made the planting process very efficient compared to the past, especially in helping us to reach habitats which were once really difficult to access. Therefore, through this project we have become more efficient in time and effort expended, as well as financially. Last but not least, we were aiming to highlight the importance of cooperation between the public and private sectors to make sure habitats are protected, preserved and restored as the government cannot do this work alone and the private sector provides essential support.
Youth are becoming increasingly aware of the pressing issue of climate change and the need for action to address it. They are personally experiencing the effects of rising temperatures, severe weather events, and rising sea levels, making them more determined to make a difference. Young people are also leading the way in finding innovative solutions to climate change, such as developing new technologies, designing sustainable buildings, and are also working to change consumption patterns and promote sustainable living. Youth empowerment and leadership in climate change is an essential aspect in the UAE. Young people in the country are taking an active role in raising awareness about the impacts of climate change and encouraging sustainable practices. They are involved in various initiatives such as environmental campaigns, educational programmes, and other projects aimed at promoting sustainable development. As part of EAD’s youth empowerment agenda at COP27, hosted at Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, we organised a youth debate in collaboration with the Federal Youth Authority of the UAE, covering the challenging topics of climate change and energy security. Other stakeholders included the Arab Youth Council for Climate Change, TAQA and ADNOC. At COP28 we at EAD will ensure youth are well represented and engage them in dialogue with policy makers, business leaders, and government officials to showcase UAE’s leadership in climate change and advocate for climate action.
Despite our location and mainly arid climate we have relatively rich and diverse habitats, both, terrestrial and marine – from mountains and wadis to deserts, and from mudflats to mangroves. These habitats add to the diversity and richness of species, including some of the most iconic such as the Arabian Oryx in the deserts of Abu Dhabi, to the Arabian Tahr on the mountain slopes of Jebel Hafeet, to dugongs and dolphins in our waters. Our network of 19 protected areas under the Shaikh Zayed Protected Areas Network provide a safe refuge to these species and their habitats. The environmental story of Abu Dhabi goes back several decades, at least four, if not to the establishment of the UAE as a federation. Our habitats and diverse range of species are intricately linked to our cultures and traditions, from fishing and pearling to falconry. It was the wisdom of our leadership, and, in particular, the vision of the late Sheikh Zayed which acted as a catalyst for conservation and protection in Abu Dhabi. Local cultures and traditions further shaped and influenced his vision. Strong links to traditions, particularly falconry, fishing, and pearl diving, led to the development of protection regimes and, more importantly, the formal conservation efforts: first through the establishment of the National Avian Research Centre in 1989, and then through the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi. Initiatives by the late Sheikh Zayed to breed the Arabian Oryx, the Asian Houbara and restore mangroves in Abu Dhabi were not only been pioneering but have helped improve their conservation status. Protection and restoration of these species and habitats has allowed people to see some of these charismatic species in their natural habitats while allowing continuation of traditions such as falconry in a sustainable way. Our efforts to protect and restore mangroves in Abu Dhabi was recently recognised by the UN among as one of the top 10 pioneering restoration initiatives globally, under the UN Decade on Restoration. These are just a few examples of our success stories and the journey that we in Abu Dhabi have embarked upon to protect our natural resources while using them sustainably to keep our traditions and culture alive. We will continue with our journey and redouble our efforts to deal with current and future environmental challenges.
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