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Ecological footprint 'will help sustainability drive'

posted on 09/03/2008: 2923 views



The UAE launched a national project called the Al Basama Al Beeiya (Ecological Footprint) Initiative last October to chart the ecological challenges facing the nation. By estimating the ecological footprint, the initiative aims to develop a nationally robust system for effective and environmentally sustainable decision-making. The ecological footprint deals with the availability of resources versus their consumption. It has become an important tool to measure sustainability.

The core partners in the initiative are the Ministry of Environment and Water, the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI), managed by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), the Emirates Wildlife Society - Worldwide Fund for Nature (EWS-WWF) and the Global Footprint Network (GFN). In an interview with Gulf News, Majid Al Mansouri, EAD Secretary-General, speaks on behalf of AGEDI about the importance of the project and its progress.

Gulf News: What are the key objectives of the Al Basama Al Beeiya project?

Majid Al Mansouri: The principal objective initiative is to measure and understand the UAE's ecological footprint and use that learning to develop important national guidelines for a more resource-conscious and resource-efficient government and society.

The project involves multiple stakeholders from across the UAE, whose involvement and commitment are key to the success of the project.

Also the objective is to refine the Global Footprint Network's (GFN) methodology of calculating the footprint. The UAE is only the third country in the world to work with GFN - after Switzerland and Japan - to undertake such in-depth research into the methodology. To this effect, through this initiative, the UAE is making a global contribution to refining the methodology from a UAE perspective.

Gulf News: What is the significance of the Ecological Footprint?

Majid Al Mansouri: In the context of rapid economic development, continual optimisation and rationalisation of resource utilisation have acquired a sense of urgency around the world, and the UAE is no exception. The Ecological Footprint, an important tool in measuring sustainability, is increasingly being integrated into developmental efforts.

Essentially, it is a measure of consumption and its effect on the available natural resources, looking at various aspects of consumption such as energy, travel, transport, food, timber, water, fish and space for infrastructure.

As people consume goods and services from around the world which have an impact on the resources and ecology in the production bases, trade features as an important element in the calculation. The footprint is then divided by the population of the country to provide a per person value. This measurement is expressed in a unit of biologically productive land called "global hectares" (gha).

Gulf News: What is the UAE's Ecological Footprint, and how does it compare with the rest of the world?

Majid Al Mansouri: As far as we see it, the jury is still out on what the UAE's Ecological Footprint is. However, the 2006 Living Planet Report put it at 11.9 gha (global hectares), which compares with the global average of 1.8 gha.

Gulf News: How do you evaluate the progress of the initiative?

Majid Al Mansouri: The initiative is progressing very well and achieving targets in the initial phase that is currently in progress. Al Basama Al Beeiya partners have managed to canvass and mobilise support from key public and private sector organisations whose cooperation is essential, especially in the vital and complex task of data collection and verification.

Soon after the launch of the project, we conducted a technical workshop. The workshop was instrumental in identifying Energy and Population as the priority areas for the data gathering exercise. Our efforts in collecting the population and energy data have been fruitful.

Gulf News: Why were Population and Energy identified as the key initial focus areas for the project?

Majid Al Mansouri: Energy, Food, Fibre, Timber and Built Land are the main components that go into calculating the ecological footprint and a country's population figure has a direct bearing on a country's ecological footprint.

Gulf News: What are the challenges that the project has had to work through in the initial phase?

Majid Al Mansouri: The biggest challenge of the project would be to bridge the national and international information gap by verifying and making sure that the figures representing the UAE are accurate. Challenges we face are in methodical and meticulous documentation of the process and data but we are making good progress on this front.

Gulf News: What are the next stages of the project?

Majid Al Mansouri: After gathering data on population and energy, we will look at other sectors such as food, timber and built land. Once all component data are reviewed, we intend to develop policy recommendations in active association with our partners.

Gulf News: What would be the outcome of the project?

Majid Al Mansouri: We expect and hope to see the development of environmental sustainability as a proactive link in all major economic decisions and a broad range of other policy decisions in the UAE.

We anticipate the integration of the principles of conservation and mechanisms of resource management across all sectors of business and society. We eagerly look forward to an environmentally aware and active community today and tomorrow. – Gulf News

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