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Middle East setting an environmental example

posted on 10/02/2001: 1774 views

There follows the full text of the article on global environmental issues submitted by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan to the ‘International Herald Tribune.

An edited version was published in today's issue of the newspaper. "The Middle East is Setting an Environmental Example” By Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan The first month of the 21st Century has produced three major news stories of relevance to the global environment and to the way in which Mankind has an impact upon it.

In El Salvador, a landslip following an earthquake has killed hundreds of people. Many of these might not have died had proper attention been given to where it was safe for their homes to be built.

In the Galapagos, a disastrous oil spill threatens one of the world's most important nature reserves, an example of how a single accident can wreak havoc among endangered species of wildlife And the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, has warned us all of the rising trend of global temperatures, with the associated rise in sea levels, something that threatens not just the livelihood, but the lives, of many hundreds of millions of people around the globe. For the first time, too, the IPCC has unequivocally stated that these processes are directly related to the activities of Man. It is easy to be a scaremonger. But we would be blind if we did not recognise, before it is too late, that there is now a consensus among the world's top scientists that our global environment is under increasing stress. In some areas, the entire system is nearing collapse.

Over the course of the last twenty or thirty years, there has been much discussion, at the level of governments, scientists and the general public, of environmental issues. Non Governmental Organisations like the WorldWide Fund for Nature and the World Conservation Union, IUCN, as well as international bodies like the United Nations Environment Programme, have done much to raise the level of awareness.

Conferences such as the Biodiversity summit in Rio de Janeiro and the conference on climate change in Kyoto have helped to focus minds on the dangers that lie ahead, even if it has not been possible, as yet, for agreement to be reached on the way in which they should be tackled. With the warnings plain to see, it is now time for a more realistic approach to be taken, one that acknowledges that thousands of species of wildlife are in danger in imminent extinction, that global warming IS taking place, threatening to flood whole countries in our world's oceans, as well as huge areas of low lying land in countries like Bangladesh and China, as well as here in the United Arab Emirates.

Developed countries, too, are at threat. If, as the IPCC warns, sea levels rise by up to 88 cm in this century, what is the future of London and New York? Environment Ministers of the 21 Arab countries met in Abu Dhabi to adopt an "Abu Dhabi Declaration” to lay down a strategy for sustainable use of environmental resources throughout the Arab world for the 21st Century. Many of the key global environmental issues have a direct relevance to the Arab region. Increasing desertification threatens much of our agricultural land.

Rising sea levels could flood not only coastal areas of the UAE, but also much of the heavily populated Nile Delta in Egypt and the lower reaches of the Tigris & Euphrates river system in Iraq. A rapidly rising population places ever growing demands on our natural resources. At the same time, all of the Arab countries are still developing. Those, such as the UAE, who enjoy the good fortune of ample oil and gas reserves need the funds their exploitation yields in order to develop, yet must, at the same time, take account of the impact that this may have on global warming.

To conserve our depleting oil reserves, we are, therefore, examining the possible uses of renewable sources of energy, like solar power. If we are to address these environmental issues properly, the Arab governments must adopt an approach that covers the whole region.

In the United Arab Emirates, we have made a start. Our heritage is that of a people who could only survive in our fragile desert environment by learning to co exist with nature and by developing a sustainable use of the resources available to us. Otherwise, simply, our ancestors would have starved.

The sustainable use of resources is a major focus of the international exhibition and conference, Environment 2001, taking place in Abu Dhabi in association with the Arab Environment Ministers meeting. It will examine some of the ways to tackle the key issue of Man's co existence with Nature in the years ahead.

In the Arab world, we recognise that a regional approach is required to environmental issues. We also believe firmly, however, that solutions can ultimately be found only on the global level. When the polar icefields melt, sea level in the Arabian Gulf or in Bangladesh is affected. If the destruction of the tropical rainforest contributes to rising temperatures, those, in turn, make it more difficult for farmers in Australia or in the American Mid West.

The future of our world's environment affects us all, for we all live on the same planet. Earthquakes, epidemics and conflicts, however disastrous they may be in terms of human suffering, have only a localised geographical impact. But the future of Mankind as a whole is inextricably entwined with the way in which we address environmental issues.

From Abu Dhabi, we shall endeavour to play our part. We pray that others will do likewise. (Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan is Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates and Deputy Chairman of Abu Dhabi's Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency, ERWDA). (The Emirates News Agency, WAM)


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