Dr. Thani Bin Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment addressing at the First Regional Biodiversity Forum in the Gulf Region in Abu Dhabi Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The UAE has ranked first in the marine protected areas in a global Environmental Performance Index (EPI) in 2018, a top official said here on Monday.

The UAE’s commitment to expand the natural reserves contributed to its first position in the EPI jointly produced by Yale University and Columbia University in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, said Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, in his keynote speech at the First Regional Biodiversity Forum that kicked off in Abu Dhabi.

“The number of officially declared natural reserves in the country has increased from 19 in 2010 to 43 in 2017,” The number of protected wetlands has gone up from two in 2010 to seven in 2017. These were proclaimed as protected areas under the Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, the intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation of wetlands and their resources, Al Zeyoudi said.

A total of 12.21 per cent of marine and coastal areas as well as over 17 per cent of terrestrial areas of the UAE are protected areas, he told Gulf News. “As of today 14.93 per cent of the UAE is classed as protected areas,” the minister said.

More than 100 biodiversity experts and specialists from the region and around the world are attending the three-day forum organised by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) in cooperation with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — Regional Office for West Asia (ROWA). The forum will discuss the progress towards the implementation of the National Strategies of NBSAPs (National Biodiversity Strategy & Action Plans) related to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The delegates will present initiatives on biodiversity conservation in the UAE and the Arab region, and exchange expertise and ensure cooperation in the biodiversity field.

Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary-General of EAD, said in her speech that was delivered on her behalf by Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, EAD’s Executive Director of Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity: “Through this forum, we aim to increase the level of technical coordination and cooperation to highlight the Arab environmental agenda in international forums and promote joint Arab action in the conservation of biodiversity."

Princess Basma Bint Ali, head of the National Committee on Biodiversity and Founder of the Royal Botanic Garden in Jordan, said the forum will provide the opportunity to agree on the biodiversity priorities in the region. She called for holding the forum annually to promote joint Arab action.

Dr Jane Smart, Global Director, Biodiversity Conservation Group/IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature] in the UAE and the Arab region, said the forum is very timely as the world considers progress towards the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. “This is, therefore, a key moment to consider achievements in the implementation of the national biodiversity strategies and action plans,” she said.