According to Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, environmental sustainability and protection have been identified as two of the key areas for Policy Agenda 2030 of Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: A project to reuse the advanced treated water in irrigation for farms will lead to saving more than 25.5 million litres per day of groundwater in Abu Dhabi emirate.

And after a successful awareness campaign involving major retailers against plastic bags, small shops and groceries will be roped in the next phase to ensure that all consumers and businesses are ready for the federal phase-out of the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags.

Apart from some of these measures for environmental conservation Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, the recently appointed secretary-general of The Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), details her vision and mission in her apacity as the head of one of the largest environmental regulators in the region, in an exclusive interview with Gulf News. Excerpts.

GULF NEWS: You are the first woman to head the EAD. Does gender matter in public life, especially heading an important government organisation? What is your experience?

RAZAN KHALIFA AL MUBARAK: This is a question I am often asked. Honestly, I do not believe that my gender is important in relation to my role and certainly not in comparison to the goals which the organisation I lead is striving to achieve.

EAD, like many other national organisations, has taken a lead in providing excellent career options to women, in line with the government's desire to integrate women fully into the work place so that they can play their full part in the development of our nation.

We have a large number of women at EAD and they hold diverse roles within our team. We also have Emirati women colleagues working as scientists and marine biologists, amongst others, all of whom can be found working out at sea or in the desert compiling scientific data and protecting our resources.

As part of our Emiratisation strategy we have initiated a Talent Management programme.

As the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan once said: "Islam affords women their rightful status and encourages them to work in all sectors, as long as they are afforded appropriate respect."

I believe in just that — a corporate culture of respect, no matter the gender, no matter the nationality — with a close-knit team working towards a single collective goal: the preservation of our natural heritage today for the generations of tomorrow.

Did you have any new insights about the environmental problems faced by Abu Dhabi in the first few months in office?

Environmental sustainability and protection are identified as one of the cross-cutting policy areas of the Policy Agenda 2030 of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. As the competent environmental authority, EAD is tasked to lead this portfolio, on behalf of the overall Abu Dhabi government. 

What are the major initiatives you have taken so far?

The Agency supports the UAE's efforts which are directed towards improving and maintaining good air quality for all and towards the reduction of emissions by leading the efforts to collect greenhouse gas emissions data in the emirate. This initiative, which is known as the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, will help the Abu Dhabi government to develop strategies and policies to assess and monitor the levels of emissions as well as the ‘sinks' that absorb greenhouse gases. This initiative is in line with the UAE's efforts to fulfil its commitment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

What will be your priority as the new secretary-general?

I am very much focused on the drive towards achieving what we have outlined in our organisational vision and mission, which is ultimately about protecting our environment. To do this, we will need to further develop our capacity as an effective regulator to conserve biodiversity, promote sustainable development, and tackle the threat of climate change in Abu Dhabi. We will work towards this by focusing our effort on six priority areas (see box).

Water scarcity is a major environmental issue. Any new initiatives to address the problems of depleting groundwater resources?

To ensure a comprehensive understanding of groundwater supply and demand issues in Abu Dhabi we will continue to enhance our groundwater monitoring network to assess both quantity and quality, and optimise the use of groundwater resources through mapping and management plans.

At this stage, there are ongoing joint projects with Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company (ADSSC) to reuse the advanced treated water in irrigation for farms which will lead to saving more than 25.5 million litres per day of groundwater. Also, we will continue to enforce the regulations to limit unplanned groundwater wells drilling.

In addition, we have aquifer artificial recharge programmes in the Western and Eastern Regions, based on the success of the pilot project. EAD — in cooperation with Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority — has developed the design for the full scheme and construction work at the injection sites, which will contribute to the rehabilitation of the groundwater system.

EAD has been actively conducting several awareness campaigns against the plastic menace. Do you think awareness campaigns will address the issue or it needs regulations like a ban on plastic bags?

In 2009 the Ministry of Environment and Water issued a Ministerial Decision to implement a programme to reduce the use of plastic bags and ban the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags by 2013. It then launched the ‘UAE: Free of Plastic Bags' campaign.

The government wants to phase out the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags. Our aim is to educate the general public about the dangers of plastic bags to our environment and urge consumers to reduce their reliance on plastic bags, encouraging them to use more sustainable alternatives, like cotton or jute bags.

The feedback has been so positive that for the next phase of the campaign, we will work with relevant partners to focus on the smaller shops and groceries, ensuring that all consumers and businesses are ready for the federal phase-out of the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags. Additionally, we are developing local laws in support of the federal decree to ensure alignment of policy on this issue. It is important that strong regulations are enforced.

Promotion of tourism attracts more people [and more vehicles also] to deserts for adventure and pleasure trips these days. Are the existing regulations sufficient to protect desert ecosystems?

We recognise that our natural environment is a key attraction for many visitors coming to Abu Dhabi and this is positive and there is no doubt that the tourist industry is an important sector of our country's economy. It acts as a strategic component of economic development. We welcome visitors and at the same time we encourage local tour operators to follow the regulations that have been set to help ensure that a rapidly developing tourism industry can be successfully sustained.

Abu Dhabi City has lost much of its green areas including mangroves in recent years due to developmental activities. Any plan to minimise the loss of greenery and compensate the loss?

EAD works very closely with the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and the Tourism Development and Investment Company to alleviate the effects of development on the emirate's natural habitats and to mitigate the degradation and loss of habitat. One of these projects involved planting 800,000 mangrove saplings along the coast of Saadiyat and Jubail islands.

Priority areas

  • 1. Developing and implementing an effective environmental regulatory and policy framework for Abu Dhabi.
  • 2. Conserving groundwater through integrated water resources management.
  • 3. Conserving and protecting biodiversity.
  • 4. Ensuring our air is clean.
  • 5. Minimising climate change and its impacts.
  • 6. Promoting sustainable communities and engaging stakeholders.