His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler's Representative in Al Dhafra Region, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), chaired a meeting of the board held at Al Nakheel Palace, in the presence of His Excellency Mohammed Ahmed Al Bowardi, Minister of State for Defence Affairs, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of EAD, Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, and His Excellency Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, Chairman of the Department of Community Development.
The meeting was also attended by Ahmed Matar Al Dhaheri, Director of the Office of His Highness the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dhafra Region, and Her Excellency Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Secretary-General of EAD.
During the meeting, His Highness stressed the importance of the agency’s ongoing work to enhance the sustainability of ecosystems as a major safety measure that will help achieve balance between the requirements of preserving these natural resources and the emirate’s development priorities. The work will also act to minimise the effects of climate change, while supporting the ongoing endeavours of the UAE and Abu Dhabi Government to achieve environmental sustainability within a legislative and regulatory framework, and maintain its position as the most world’s most liveable city.
His Highness praised EAD's achievements during the first half of the year, which are aligned with the vision of the late Founding Father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the First Environmentalist, to achieve sustainable development – a vision that was continued by the late Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and is still ongoing thanks to the directives and wise leadership of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE. His Highness added that the first half of this year witnessed the achievement of more outstanding initiatives in the field of environmental protection and preservation, including the formulation of plans and policies and the enhancement of joint cooperation projects with EAD’s strategic partners, as well as the launch and implementation of several pioneering initiatives, all of which contribute to supporting the main goal of ensuring a more sustainable future for Abu Dhabi.
His Highness highlighted that the Year of Sustainability, under the slogan Today for Tomorrow, confirms the importance of EAD's role in achieving sustainability, which is at the heart of all of its current plans and programmes and its approach in implementing ambitious strategies and programmes that aim to achieve long-term goals for sustainable development. Those objectives are based on the principle of equal partnership between Abu Dhabi Government and other sectors, proving them a key role in assuming the responsibility for achieving the vision of our wise leadership and strengthening efforts, initiatives and strategic plans aimed at achieving environmental sustainability in all fields. He said EAD will not be satisfied with achieving its current goals, keeping in mind the UAE’s future generations who will complete its environmental journey, by empowering and qualifying UAE youth to be leaders of change and creators of the future.
The meeting reviewed EAD's most prominent achievements in the biodiversity sector during the first half of this year, which include the issuance of the first decision to regulate recreational fishing activities. The list also includes the use of artificial intelligence for the first time at emirate level in implementing an experiment using drones to study the numbers and behaviour of dugongs, and the announcement of the Red List of Ecosystems in Abu Dhabi, based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) standards for the first time in the region.
In a world first, six tracking devices were also installed on kingfish to study their migration paths and patterns, and 178 sea turtles were rescued, rehabilitated and released once recovered, whereas in the last three years a total of 800 turtles were rescued. The first half of 2023 also saw 560 visitors exploring the Abu Dhabi Pearl Project in Al Mirfa during its first experimental eco-tourism launch.
As part of the region’s largest coral reef rehabilitation project, 350,000 coral reef colonies were installed and rehabilitated in the emirate's waters, helping to achieve EAD's goal of cultivating more than one million coral reef colonies with the aim of increasing their area in the emirate. The first phase of the nationwide fish stock survey project was completed on board EAD’s research vessel Jaywun, which included 108 sailing days, during which 324 marine sites were surveyed and 1,500 samples were collected. In addition, nine young Emirati researchers were trained, for a period of 333 days and 3,510 hours. The agency’s team carried out 3,033 hours of monitoring in marine reserves, which included cleaning 11 sites of old fishing tools and removing 2,300kg of marine debris.
Also, EAD developed a policy for natural reserves for the emirate – the first of its kind at state level – and in line with the highest international reserve management standards. Researchers at EAD also monitored 135 active osprey nests in the emirate, in the first survey of this species’ nests. In addition, this year, seven new species of invertebrates were discovered at five nature reserves and added to the faunal database. Three new plant species out of 19 species registered were also discovered, as part of vegetation study surveys. EAD has also completed the measurement process for the City Biodiversity Index in Abu Dhabi City for the first time in the region out of 39 countries.
As part of EAD’s mammal reintroduction programme – the largest in the world – the population of Scimitar-horned Oryx in Chad has reached 550, which includes 30 new calves born in the wild so far. The total number of Addax in Chad reached 160 animals, including 15 newborns this year, some of which are second-generation births in the wild.
The meeting also reviewed the agency's achievements in the environmental quality sector, including the launch of the remote sensing technology patented by NASA to measure air pollutants in vehicle emissions – the first project of its kind in the region – and the completion of the first expedition that conducted atmospheric research from Spain to Abu Dhabi. The 27-day journey took place with the aim of completing the analysis of greenhouse gas pollutants such as methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. The trip also studied the impact of pollutants on Abu Dhabi through mathematical modelling of their movement, in addition to data collection for the purposes of scientific research, such as studying the movement of pollutants and discovering their sources, which was conducted in partnership with research institutions and local and international universities such as Khalifa University, King Saud University and the French Environmental Laboratory. The levels of microplastics were also studied in a regional-first programme.
The geographical scope of the Soil and Marine Water Quality Monitoring Programme was also expanded and 300 soil samples were collected to support research and development in the field of soil quality assessment. The first phase of the automated licensing service, X71, was also launched, and will be playing the role of the human evaluator in the environmental permit issuance process, to facilitate the licensing process in specific, environmentally studied industrial zones, and reduce the requirements of environmental studies. This service will enable facility owners to receive the environmental permit immediately after submitting it within six minutes.
The Strategic Environmental Assessment Programme was also launched to determine the environmental impacts of development plans and programmes in the emirate, in addition to the issuance of 616 licences for 335 industrial establishments, 175 development projects and 106 commercial licences, a total of 18 environmental studies were reviewed, and 360 inspection visits were made to organisations in the industrial, development and commercial sectors, with a total compliance rate of 87 per cent.
As for implementing the decision to schedule violations and administrative fines for violators of environmental legislation in Abu Dhabi, 30 penal violations have been monitored since the beginning of 2023. In addition, 192 administrative violations were recorded, 21 of which are irreconcilable, while the number of reconcilable administrative violations reached 171.
The meeting also discussed the feasibility of the system for capping and trading emissions, which is one of the initiatives of Abu Dhabi’s climate change strategy. The study includes research into the feasibility of applying the system at federal level in cooperation with the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, which aims to support the country’s efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The implementation plan includes carbon pricing mechanisms, and the emissions cap and trading system as one option with which to support the achievement of carbon emissions reduction targets.
The meeting also addressed EAD’s achievements in environmental awareness, as the number of users of the E-green platform – the first e-learning tool dedicated to environmental topics in the Middle East – has reached 755 users. Meanwhile, the Baadr application was downloaded 2,053 times during the first half of this year, and was created to change the environmental behaviours of Abu Dhabi residents, citizens and residents, and motivate them to be leaders in the process of positive transformation. The number of downloads of the environmental marathon application reached 17,624. The number of listeners to a series of podcasts entitled Naturally Educated that focuses on important environmental topics, reached 982.
Meanwhile, the Sahim programme, which was launched this year and aims to promote citizen science and environmental knowledge, successfully organised eight clean-up campaigns, which were attended by 276 participants who collected a total of 4,962kg of waste. Also, the Environmental Talks Programme, which has so far presented 15 sessions, was attended by 1,404 participants.
In addition, three programmes targeting young people have been launched and implemented, including the COP28 Youth Climate and Nature Series of which part of it was an escape room activation that requires escape from the effects of climate change. The escape room began its tour in Abu Dhabi and will continue its tour of the UAE throughout the Year of Sustainability, inspiring thousands of participants to experience the science behind climate action. EAD also launched its Suaalif ’ajdadina Program, in addition to organising 14 awareness sessions that were attended by 900 young people.
The board meeting also included a review of awards received by EAD during the first half of 2023 – the agency has won four awards at the local and international levels. The international awards were namely the Best Regional Environmental Institution Award launched by Capital Finance International (CFI), and the global diamond award for excellence in quality by the European Society for Quality Research.
At local level, EAD won the UAE Innovates Award 2023 from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Innovation, in the Best Innovation in Achieving Sustainability category for three innovative projects: the Marine Flagship Restoration Programmes; the Green Business Network; and Abu Dhabi Mangrove Initiative. EAD also signed eight agreements during the first half of 2023.
The efforts of the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital and its many great achievements were discussed during the meeting. The number of falcons treated during the first half of this year reached 2,383, and 2,855 animals were treated in total, while the facilility conducted 26,706 laboratory tests. The number of tourists reached 4,996 as part of the hospital's eco-tourism programme, which has won many international awards.
His Highness praised the results achieved across 50 annual key performance indicators during 2022, which focused on various environmental sectors, including waste, marine water quality, air quality, soil quality, biodiversity, sustainable fishing and groundwater.
The meeting also reviewed the performance of the semi-annual capital projects implemented by EAD, which include the establishment of the Plant Genetic Resources Center, the design of the agency’s headquarters and the Environmental Research Center, the establishment of the Environmental Management Center in the Ports of Mirfa and Sila, and the establishment of marine cages for fish farming in Al Sila City.
Other projects also include the establishment of centres for the protection of the wild environment, the second phase of the project to establish new facilities for collecting animals in the Deleika Wildlife Conservation Centre, the establishment of the open marine museum in the Saadiyat Reserve, the establishment of a facility for breeding wild rabbits in Abu Dhabi, and the Seed Preservation Centre project that will be established in the Al Dhafra Region – the first of its kind in the region – and aims to preserve seeds for medium-terms periods ranging from five to 10 years.