Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

The UAE Environment Day, launched more than 22 years ago and celebrated on February 4 each year, aims to highlight the UAE’s commitment towards preserving the environment and realising sustainable development by achieving a balance between ecological, economic and social dimensions of development.

The 23rd UAE National Environment Day 2020 carries the theme of ‘Nature-Based Solutions (NBS)’. It is a well-chosen and timely theme as NBS is gaining increased attention globally due its cost effectiveness and multiple benefits.

The secretary-general of the United Nations at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit featured “nature-based solutions” as one of six priority Action Portfolios. Also, the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 5) in February 2021 will mobilise, motivate and energise member-states and stakeholders into sharing and implementing successful approaches and nature-based solutions that contribute to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly the eradication of poverty and the promotion of sustainable patterns of consumption and production.

The UAE leadership is fully aware and very keen on achieving sustainable development that does not harm the environment, current or future generations. Thus, for UAE, NBS is the right sustainability approach to realise these goals.

Humanity needs both technological and engineering solutions along with Nature-Based Solutions in order to manage to solve our environmental problems and realise Sustainable Development Goals.

- Dr Mohamed Abdel Raouf, environmental researcher

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines nature-based solutions as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits”.

There is a growing recognition and awareness that nature can help provide practical solutions that use and deploy the properties of natural ecosystems and the services that they provide in a smart, natural and cost-effective way. These nature-based solutions provide sustainable, multi-purpose and flexible alternatives for various objectives. Working with nature, rather than against it, can further pave the way towards a more resource efficient, competitive and greener economy. It can also help create new green jobs and sustainable economic growth, through the manufacture and delivery of new products and services, which enhance the natural capital rather than deplete it.

Nature-based approaches are often more cost-effective in the long term than purely technical approaches and can produce important additional socioeconomic benefits for the environment, citizens, local and global economy.

Vital for decarbonisation and tackling climate change

For instance, Nature-Based Solutions are an essential component of the overall global effort to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. They are a vital complement to decarbonisation, reducing climate change risks and establishing climate resilient societies. They value harmony between people and nature, as well as ecological development and represent a holistic, people-centred response to climate change.

In nature-based climate change mitigation, ecosystem services are used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to conserve and expand carbon sinks. In nature-based climate adaptation, the goal is to preserve ecosystem services that are necessary for human life in the face of climate change and to reduce the impact of anticipated negative effects of climate change (eg: more intense rainfall, more frequent floods as well as heatwaves and droughts).

Other NBS examples include conservation of desert, integrated costal areas, tree restoration, restoring wetlands and mangroves and green infrastructure. It is worth mentioning that, many of these are already applied and well developed in UAE such as green cities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, green buildings codes, protected areas (as of 2018 around 15 per cent of the UAE is classed as protected areas), Aflaj system protection and restoration, mangroves, marine and birds protection and restoration areas and projects around the capital Abu Dhabi.

To support and promote NBS, a creative policy mix (ie command-and-control measures, market-based instruments, awareness and education measures) needs to be developed to realise the shift towards realising NBS at all levels especially at corporate level.

It is essential to mainstream and enhance the framework conditions for nature-based solutions at emirate, sectoral and national UAE policy levels and provide financial incentives and options to advance the development, uptake and upscale of innovative nature-based solutions.

more on the topic

In addition, work towards increasing and mainstreaming NBS within national governance, climate action and climate policy-related instruments such as Nationally Determined Contributions, adaptation and mitigation.

In short, this newly coined terminology (NBS) and approach are solutions for societal challenges that are inspired by processes and functioning of nature. However, due to our modern complex and mounting environmental crisis (climate, food, water … etc), humanity needs both technological and engineering solutions along with Nature-Based Solutions in order to manage to solve our environmental problems and realise Sustainable Development Goals.

There is no doubt that realising NBS will allow us to live in harmony with nature, enhance the UAE’s image even further, advance the quality of life, achieve sustainable development and attract more tourists and investments to the country.

— Dr Mohamed Abdel Raouf is an independent environmental researcher.