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In 2015, countries around the globe adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with 169 underlying targets that tackle major challenges faced by the global community. When 193 governments agree to take on the most pressing global concerns, as was the case with signing up to the SDGs, you know that people are motivated by a genuine desire for progression. From ending poverty and hunger, to protecting the only home we know — Planet Earth — to ensuring the prosperity and well-being of all forms of life on earth, the sustainability goals are driving the transformation in global policymaking.
The UAE’s commitment to sustainability has always been solid. The founding father of the UAE, late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan adopted this concept and instilled it as a way of life in the hearts of all Emiratis, long before it had gained global uptake. Shaikh Zayed’s holistic approach to nature conservation has been a major contributor to the sustainable management of natural resources in the country. His legacy continues as generation after generation follows his footsteps in protecting and preserving the environment.
The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) has been playing a leading role in implementing the SDGs, many of which fall under its direct mandate. For example, the ministry has been promoting sustainable agriculture to increase crop productivity without depleting the finite groundwater resources, in line with SDG 2 on food security and sustainable agriculture. Innovative farming techniques such as hydroponics are key to overcome the challenges posed by the country’s limited water and arable land and the high summer temperatures.
As for promoting responsible consumption and production to meet SDG 12, MOCCAE has been conducting several public awareness campaigns to encourage more sustainable production and consumption patterns across the country. Food waste is a major concern in this area. That is why the ministry organises awareness campaigns prior to Ramadan, as food wastage tends to increase during the month.
Pertaining to SDG 13 on climate change, MOCCAE launched the National Climate Change Plan 2017-2050 last year as UAE’s comprehensive framework to address the causes and impacts of climate change and prepare for the transition into a climate resilient green economy. Our priority is to foster effective climate action. To this end, MOCCAE launched the “Climate Innovation Exchange Forum” (CLIX) during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2018, which connects entrepreneurs and innovators with investors to help drive sustainable climate change, mitigating and adaptation solutions. Also, at the World Government Summit 2018, the ministry launched ‘The Climate Project’, aimed at delivering climate initiatives that will touch the lives of 10 million people by 2020.
To ensure that the future generation can adequately address climate change, MOCCAE and the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with the Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi, launched the ‘Our Generation’ initiative, to develop school curricula to raise environmental and natural conservation awareness in schools and encourage taking measures to reduce environmental footprints.
With regard to sustaining life below water and achieving SDG 14, MOCCAE has been taking active measures to address overfishing and protect marine ecosystems through policies and regulations as well as several initiatives to rehabilitate coral reefs and marine habitats. The ministry launched the Marine Environment Research Centre, which developed the UAE Sustainable Fisheries programme to ensure sustainable fishing. Moreover, a Coastal Oil Spill Cleanup Guide was developed to help decision-makers, field teams and volunteers respond quickly and swiftly to incidents of beach pollution.
To maintain and improve terrestrial life as specified in SDG 15, MOCCAE has launched many initiatives, most notably are the UAE Smart Map of Natural Capital, the National Programme of Sustainable Wildlife, identifying the invasive species within the country and updating the National Red List, among others.
The ministry has also carried out a number of campaigns in recent years to make the public aware of the issue of illicit wildlife trade. The ‘Beautiful in The Wild’ campaign was started in 2015, to raise awareness of the importance of keeping wild animals in their natural habitats and the effects of invasive species on local biodiversity.
Remarkably, the UAE has a total of 43 protected areas, of which, seven have officially been designated as Wetlands of International Importance. As such, the UAE will be hosting the 13th Meeting of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands later this October, which will facilitate discussions on the role of wetlands in sustaining our environment.
Despite the many initiatives that the government has launched — and will launch — one fact stands out: Governments alone cannot undertake the challenging task of implementing the SDGs. The circle of action must be broadened to include the private sector, academia and others as well.
More businesses in the UAE need to recognise the relevance of the SDGs to their activities and make them part of their core business strategy, moving away from a business-as-usual approach in the way they create and offer their products and services.
MOCCAE has established two platforms to foster partnerships among the public and private sectors as well as academia. The ‘Environment and Business Majlis’ was established in 2016, aiming to boost contribution of the private sector and guide private companies to be aligned with the government’s environmental strategies. The Sustainability Research Committee, on the other hand, seeks to bring together the country’s leading experts from government and academia to pursue research on climate change and environmental sustainability issues.
Youth is another driving force that we need to leverage to accelerate the UAE’s efforts towards realising the SDGs by 2030. Realising this, the UAE has kicked off many youth-centric initiatives to encourage youth empowerment and engagement across all sectors of government. Most notably, these include the Emirates Youth Council, the UAE Youth Ambassador Programme, and the Youth for Sustainability Programme. Each of these initiatives is set to bridge the gap between the young generation and policymakers to make sure their voices are heard while shaping the future of this nation.
2030 is only 12 years away, but with some planning and collective effort, by the UAE public and private sectors along with academia, youth and all interested parties working in tandem, we will successfully meet the SDGs.