United Arab Emirates Cabinet Member and Minister of Climate Change and Environment H.E. Dr. Thani Bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi speaks at the Secretary-General's Private Event for Business Leadership on 18 September 2017 at United Nations Headquarters in NYC.

We celebrate several international, regional and national eco/environment days throughout the year. Each of these dates is designated to create awareness on various environmental signposts such as Earth Day, World Water Day and Gulf (Gulf Cooperation Council) Environment Week.

In fact, our modern lifestyle and unsustainable development patterns have placed increasing pressure on our mother Earth. Thus these occasions help to reach out to the wider public and younger generations to encourage and educate them about the importance of protecting the environment and natural resources.

On October 14 each year, the Arab world celebrates the ‘Arab Environment Day’. This is the main regional environmental occasion to demonstrate support for environment and raise awareness on important environmental issues in the region. This was the day on which Arab Environment ministers met in Tunis in 1986 and the Arab League established the Council of Arab Ministers Responsible for Environment (Camre) with the aim of developing cooperation between Arab countries in areas of environment, identify major environmental problems and seek solutions in the Arab world as well as the interconnections between environment and development.

Unfortunately, many Arab countries ignore this day. There is no environmental theme to celebrate the day. Although there is a common environmental theme identified by the Arab League for the day, many countries do not pay any attention to it. Sadly, there is little or no activity at all to mark the occasion. There is little awareness and hardly any media coverage for that day across the region. In addition, there is a complete absence of common participation at both governmental and non-governmental levels.

However, one must admit that a few Arab countries like the UAE and Jordan commemorate the Arab Environment Day with multiple activities promoting environmental conservation, renewable energy, clean and green technologies, sustainable transportation etc — in line with their plans towards a shift to a green economy.

The Arab world faces common environmental challenges. Some environmental problems are traditional, linked to water scarcity, water pollution, land degradation, desertification and air pollution. There are also, emerging environmental challenges such as increased demand for energy, negative impact of climate change, e-waste, construction and demolition debris.

Arab Environment Day is a real chance to raise environmental awareness to protect our environment. Only by safeguarding the environment, Arab countries can realise the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) because environment is in the DNA of sustainability.

Raising awareness about environmental protection and changing people’s behaviour towards an environment-friendly society will not happen overnight. It is a long journey that needs our active participation. October 14 can serve as an effective marker for that. Needless to say, in the Arab World, efforts to increase environmental awareness during Arab Environment Day should be an easy task because it is our religious duty to conserve the environment and natural resources. The use of religious guidelines and principles must be an integral part of any awareness campaign during Arab Environment Day.

There is plenty of room for cooperation in the Arab world on many aspects related to the environment sector, such as pollution monitoring, utilisation of groundwater tables, recycling, water desalination, joint environmental research and projects, the use of renewable energies and so on.

In addition, Arab Environment Day is a great opportunity to reflect on what we can do as individuals and as part of a civil society to reduce our carbon footprint, shift towards a green lifestyle, non-wasteful, and one that does not lead to exhaustion of natural resources. It also gives us a chance to reduce carbon emissions to ensure that our scarce natural resources are utilised in a sustainable way.

On Arab Environment Day today, let us unite to protect our fragile environment. We have failed to do so politically, but environment has the power to unite us all, help us achieve sustainable development and improve quality of life for our current and future generations.

— Dr Mohamed Abdel Raouf is an independent environment researcher