Abu Dhabi has been named Arab Environment Capital for 2023 by the Secretariat General of the Arab League and the Council of Arab Environment Ministers. The organisation recognised the emirate’s achievements in environmental protection and climate action over several years, led by Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD).

His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler’s Representative in Al Dhafra Region and Chairman of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), expressed his pride at Abu Dhabi being named Capital of the Arab Environment 2023, noting that the emirate’s achievements in the field of environmental protection and climate action is the result of the wise vision and directives of the UAE leadership, led by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE. 

His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan said: “Abu Dhabi is a pioneering leader in sustainability, in full alignment with the UAE's vision and commitment to fostering a sustainable and prosperous future. This was reaffirmed by the announcement of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, that 2024 is the Year of Sustainability once again.” 

His Highness added that this award is a result of joint efforts by governmental and private bodies, sectors and institutions in Abu Dhabi in the field of protecting the environment and preserving its natural resources. This approach was inspired by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, whose forward-thinking vision placed great importance on the need to conserve nature and protect the environment.

His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan said: “Abu Dhabi is consistently guided and inspired by the overarching vision of the UAE’s leadership, which is recognised worldwide for investing in knowledge-based initiatives that safeguard the environment and provide a sustainable future for generations to come.”  

The Secretariat General of the Arab League named Abu Dhabi Capital of the Arab Environment for 2023 at the end of last year, in recognition of the emirate’s distinguished environmental protection efforts, and implementation of related initiatives and projects to improve people’s quality of life – all underpinned by the aim to achieve sustainable development and protect natural resources in the region. It is also an example of how the emirate’s dedication, efficient planning and the effective execution of wide-ranging sustainability initiatives can reap impactful results that will benefit generations to come.

Abu Dhabi won the competition organised by the Council of Arab Ministers Responsible for the Environment during its 34th session in Muscat last year, which coincided with two significant local and global events: the UAE declared 2023 the Year of Sustainability under the slogan Today for Tomorrow, and the UAE hosting COP28.

The agency prepared its award submission in cooperation with local partners, including Abu Dhabi Department of Municipalities and Transport (DMT), Abu Dhabi Sustainable Water Solutions Company (ADSWS), Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority (ADAFSA), Abu Dhabi Waste Management Company Tadweer, and the Department of Energy (DOE).

Further cementing Abu Dhabi’s global environmental leadership credentials, the award submission outlined the most prominent achievements and initiatives implemented by the emirate, including: the development of green infrastructure, improvements in air and water quality, and the adoption of renewable energy and clean technology in all core sectors. The emirate has also launched a range of environmental awareness campaigns and programmes, motivating residents to take conscious measures to preserve the environment, as well as targeting students and the community to support environmental and sustainable projects.

Key achievements by Abu Dhabi included the emirate’s focus on climate change centred around reducing carbon emissions while adapting to its anticipated effects, and enhancing environmental awareness. The emirates’ climate action agenda includes various projects, such as: developing natural carbon sinks, planting millions of mangrove trees, converting transportation to low-emission alternatives, and diversifying energy sources. Other climate change measures also implemented in Abu Dhabi include replacing traditional lighting with smart street lighting to reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, launching a mangrove planting initiative that disperses seeds using drone technology, and conducting an atmospheric research expedition to improve air quality and mitigation measures. The agency also launched the Green Industries eco-labeling programme to reduce industrial sector emissions, and created an index of farms applying climate-smart practices.

Abu Dhabi is implementing a comprehensive plan for land transport, low-emission vehicles, and traffic management in the emirate. Developed in 2009 to meet the city’s environmental, social, and economic goals, the Integrated Land Transportation Plan was updated in 2017 and again in 2022. The plan includes measures to reduce carbon emissions, such as creating public transportation infrastructure using renewable energy technologies, as well as innovative systems for operating buses using solar energy, and encouraging the use of alternative means of transportation, such as bicycles. 

Abu Dhabi has made great efforts to combat land degradation caused by erosion and wind, creating forest areas to reduce sand encroachment and limit its impact on green spaces and air pollution. Strategic plans have also been developed to help urban cities mitigate and adapt to climate change, and Abu Dhabi's Plan Maritime was developed to protect coastal areas and preserve their resources and marine habitats in a sustainable manner. A comprehensive soil survey project was also conducted to determine its various types, which revealed the suitability of one million hectares of land for irrigated agriculture. The first soil sample bank of its kind in the Arab world and North Africa was established to preserve soil samples and provide information about changes in soil quality.

Abu Dhabi also seeked to protect biodiversity and identify endangered species in the region, with a total of 3,453 species now registered in the emirate. Abu Dhabi is implementing a comprehensive programme to register new species and assess the protection status of each. The emirate launched the Red List of Threatened Species report and the Urban Biodiversity Index report, and reintroduced some endangered species back into the wild, such as the Arabian Oryx, the Scimitar-horned Oryx, the Dama Gazelle, and the Addax. In 2023, Abu Dhabi won a global award for its coastal and marine ecosystems rehabilitation programmes, and Bu Tinah Island was included on the UNESCO list of natural wonders, reflecting its efforts to preserve natural reserves.

Abu Dhabi manages the largest number of natural reserves in the Arab region, which cover 30.88 pe cent of the emirate’s total area. It also seeks to obtain international recognition for its terrestrial and marine reserve management systems by adhering to best global standards. The emirate manages 519 forests covering 200,000 hectares – 2.9 per cent of the emirate’s total area. Abu Dhabi is currently making its documented environmental data available to the public through smart applications, educational tools, and social media. The emirate is strengthening its environmental research programmes, and has discovered 20 new species. Abu Dhabi is also adding an aesthetic touch to cities and population centres to encourage more eco-tourism.

Maintaining and improving air quality is a priority for the emirate if it is to achieve sustainable development and reduce any negative impacts on humans and the environment. Several strategic initiatives and projects have been implemented to manage and improve air quality in coordination and cooperation with other government and private agencies. The emissions of greenhouse gases, mercury, and industrial air pollutants were inventoried and their sources analysed, and projects for the clean use of fuel in the transportation sector, the power generation sector, water production, and the transition to clean and renewable energy have been implemented. The emirate introduced projects to periodically inspect vehicles, improve the traffic system, adopt smart management measures, and develop demand for electricity and water. Abu Dhabi has also adopted development options that help maintain air quality and negate the impact of air pollution on public health and the environment.

A study was conducted to both map noise levels in Abu Dhabi and identify any related mitigation mechanisms. The initiative saw 22 devices installed across 20 locations to monitor air and noise pollution levels. The readings derived from the field study were entered into a mathematical modelling system that included data on car movement, construction site locations, and population concentrations. From this, a contour map was produced showing the areas most and least affected by high levels of noise, which was then used to develop improvement plans.

Abu Dhabi implemented several initiatives to overcome key waste management challenges, while optimising the sector and promoting a circular economy. The most important were the development of a strategic plan for waste sector management (2021-2025), developing and implementing regulatory and legislative frameworks, and developing an electronic system for waste classification. Other key projects include building an integrated system for environmental inspection, compliance and enforcement, issuing a policy for producing energy from waste in 2021, and establishing three new waste incinerators designed to international best practice to treat medical and hazardous waste. The emirate also prepared a policy to reduce single-use plastics as well as executive regulations, and developed and implemented an integrated awareness plan aimed at various segments of society.

Success in this field include issuing licenses and organising the process for drilling groundwater wells, completing the emirate’s first inventory of groundwater wells in 2018, creating the first-of-its-kind groundwater atlas in Abu Dhabi, and providing drinking water in times of emergency. A programme was developed in 2020 to evaluate deep underground reservoirs and determine their potential, their underground reserve, water quality, and the possibility of future exploitation. Other notable achievements include producing the first ever hydrogeological map of Abu Dhabi Emirate, issuing the general policy for groundwater management and protection, as well as a sustainability policy for marine water quality.

Wastewater is disposed of and treated through several plants equipped with the latest technologies and advanced facilities, enabling its reuse for agricultural purposes and irrigation of green areas. Abu Dhabi has also taken the following measures in order to provide sustainable sewage solutions: launched the Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Programme (STEP) in 2017, implemented a project to rehabilitate and replace sewer lines in Abu Dhabi in 2017, built 41 plants to collect and treat more than 320 million cubic metres of wastewater annually, and created a monitoring programme for the sewage network, measured against key performance indicators.

The National Innovation Strategy is the general framework under which innovation efforts are led and coordinated to make the UAE one of the most innovative countries in the world, in line with the UAE Centennial 2071 strategy. Abu Dhabi’s search for sustainable solutions to environmental and wildlife challenges is grounded in accurate, sound scientific data, studies, research and programmes, helping to develop, issue, and enforce environmental policies and legislation. Abu Dhabi is also committed to enriching environmental work via a culture of innovation, and to introduce more innovative environmental initiatives that provide successful solutions. As a result, the emirate has won several innovation awards for its environmental projects and programmes.

The government has prepared policy frameworks to ensure that sustainability considerations are placed at the forefront of all development plans, as rapid development continues to put significant pressure on the emirates’ natural resources and infrastructure. To achieve this, the Abu Dhabi Strategy for Demand Side Management and Energy Rationalization 2030 was developed, setting specific goals to reduce electricity consumption by 22 per cent and water consumption by 32 per cent by 2030. This will contribute to reducing annual carbon dioxide emissions by 9 million tonnes by 2030.

Environmental awareness and education programmes have proven successful both home and abroad. Abu Dhabi won regional and global awards for its environmental awareness programmes from global organisations such as the United Nations. As a result of programmes that targeted students, youth, employees, and general community members, the commitment to environmental behaviour in the emirate increased from 55 per cent in 2012 to 78 per cent in 2021.