2023 has been named the “Year of Sustainability” by the UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and rightly so, as the year is filled with several initiatives, activities, and upcoming events that draw upon the UAE’s deep-rooted values of sustainability and the legacy of its founder, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Sustainability has been a fundamental principle in the UAE since its unification, and by working together and launching key initiatives today, the leadership is ensuring that we leave behind a legacy of stewardship for future generations.
The UN predicts that by 2025, half the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas, making the need for innovative solutions to manage water resources even more pressing. This is where the UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science (UAEREP) has intervened, establishing itself as a global hub for applied research in the field of rain enhancement.
While the UAE is located in one of the hottest and driest regions on earth, it has emerged as a leader in international weather modification efforts to increase natural rainfall amounts through significant progress made in its cloud seeding programme first introduced in the 1990s.
Development in this area has been critical since one of the biggest existential concerns presently facing the UAE, and the entire GCC region, is the scarcity of consistent water availability from natural sources and most importantly rainfall, which averages less than 79mm annually. With the increasing population in the UAE like other nations, water sustainability has become of utmost importance and a key resource for our nation’s future.
Leaders in cloud seeding
The UAE has been conducting operational cloud seeding for nearly two decades and its continued success has led to a steady increase in operations over the past few years, with 311 flights conducted in 2022 compared to just 177 in 2016.
Cloud seeding contributes to an increase of annual precipitation yields by 10% to 25% in optimal conditions throughout the country. If cloud seeding and other rainfall enhancement applications can be further developed and succeed in the UAE, then the expertise can be shared with other regions around the world looking to increase their precipitation yields.
The importance of operational cloud seeding efforts as well as applied research and development in the broader field of rainfall enhancement was highlighted at the sixth edition of the International Rain Enhancement Forum (IREF) hosted by UAEREP earlier this year.
By bringing together leading international and regional experts, the IREF serves as a window into the latest solutions and opportunities for advancing rainfall enhancement research to address global water scarcity issues.
Moreover, the UAEREP has received 96 innovative research pre-proposals for its Fifth Cycle, with the awardees being announced in early 2024. The Fifth Cycle drew research proposals from over 400 researchers, scientists, and specialists in the field of weather modification affiliated with 216 research centers, universities and public and private institutions in 35 countries around the world.
UAEREP awardees from previous cycles have developed new technologies, data sets and software capabilities to advance international research efforts in the field, and by funding and promoting such initiatives, the UAEREP is pushing the boundaries of rainfall enhancement applications and establishing it as a key aspect of water security.
Through these collaborations with prominent international organisations such as the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAR), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), the UAEREP continues to further applied research and development for rainfall enhancement both locally and across the globe.
Hosting COP28 a significant milestone
These efforts align with the UAE’s pursuit of climate change solutions and environmental, water and food sustainability, as it prepares to host the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) later this year. Hosting COP28 in the UAE will be a significant milestone in building a more sustainable future as our leadership aims to drive global efforts toward sustainability.
This historic event will be a platform for world leaders, civil society representatives, and business leaders to make real progress on environmental policies while looking toward innovative solutions that address the challenges of climate change.
Water scarcity and water security are placed among the highest priority topics of interest, with COP28 bringing together over 200 countries to discuss and build consensus on key issues related to climate action, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable development.
Through the UAEREP, our leadership is not only striving for environmental sustainability but also to secure a more prosperous future for all its citizens. By investing in applied rainfall enhancement research and operations, the UAE is showing simultaneously its commitment to both economic growth and environmental protection.
The Year of Sustainability aims to showcase the UAE’s commitment towards fostering a global collaboration in seeking innovative solutions to challenges, such as energy, climate change and other pressing issues related to sustainability.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has made sustainable socioeconomic development a foundational pillar of the nation’s ambitions. His ongoing oversight of major national organisations has underpinned economic growth and diversification efforts.
We have seen a remarkable shift towards sustainability within the first year of His Highness’s reign, and yet we will continue to see significant changes and initiatives introduced. With his wise leadership, the UAE will strive to take the lead in climate change, using innovation and the technologies at our disposal to create solutions needed to reduce water scarcity.
Alya Mazroui is the Director of the UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science