The Dubai Miracle Garden an outdoor recreational destination, located in Dubailand. Image Credit: Gulf News archive

On Wednesday, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) released results of the Abu Dhabi Air Emissions Inventory, with more than 50 high-definition sector-specific Air Emission Maps for the first time, identifying the location and intensity of each man-made emission source in the emirate. The report reveals that the oil and gas, road transport and industrial sectors are the biggest contributors to air pollution in Abu Dhabi, but with varying intensities.

This is a purposeful step forward in combating the potential problems of one of the most pervasive challenges facing the world today — air pollution. As things stand, globally, 91 per cent of the world’s population lives in places where air quality does not meet World Health Organisation guidelines. Each year, 4.2 million people around the world die due to breathing poor quality air. The problem has become so acute that this year, the first World Health Organisation conference on air pollution and health was held from October 30 to November 1 in Geneva to seek commitments and solutions from countries to tackle this lethal problem.

The UAE has placed air quality as one of the key issues in its National Vision 2021 agenda, aiming to reach 90 per cent target of clean air by 2021 and it is fitting that this is a high-ranking priority because every aspect of urban progress — such as industrialisation, expanding transport network, construction — brings along with it challenges to air quality. Compounding these man-made challenges are natural contributions to air quality such as the UAE’s desert environment, which means the presence of sand particles in the air is an inevitability. While nature’s writ is beyond our control, we can, and must, ensure that our own urgency for development, engineered through a self-delineated vision, does not come at the cost of our health and happiness.

One of the salient aspects of the EAD report is its emphasis on compliance control whose importance in curbing air pollution cannot be overstated. The more self-regulatory industries and entities become in terms of adhering to emissions standards, the sooner will the air quality index improve. In fact, this preemptive discipline must necessarily triumph over the reactive deterent of being fined for violation of the national standards of emissions.

So to begin with, it would be a good sign to see a drop in the numbers of emissions attributed to sectors that are the biggest contributors to air pollution in the UAE — transport, oil and gas, industries — over the next 12 months.

That will be the most tangible evidence of seeing change in the air.