Abu Dhabi recently pledged environmental targets for 50 years. This was in conjunction the UAE Centennial, 2071, announced earlier to celebrate the state’s founding. This brought back memories of the 20-year-old dream of Arab environmental activists to trace the word “environment”, in any government plan. The UAE went further than that, and developed a fifty year environmental plan, which culminated in the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Union. Saudi Arabia had also launched a long-running set of environmental goals and policies, beginning with Vision 2030. It then went on to create the Saudi Green Initiative to help achieve climate goals by the middle century. Other Arab countries like Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Jordan have also committed to long term environmental policies and goals, although to different degrees.
This, regardless how small, is the most important indicator.
The Environment Agency in Abu Dhabi has announced the Environmental Centennial 2071. This plan aims to place the UAE amongst the top 100 countries in terms of environmental standards in 50 years. The plan links efforts to protect the environment with economic opportunities and technological research in order to allow all parts of society to contribute to achieving common environmental goals. The plan envisions achieving this by transitioning to a green economy which is the most efficient way to realize sustainable development goals.
The Environmental Centennial 2071 proposes three pathways to achieve the best sustainable natural systems. They include the preservation of biodiversity, natural resources, and the highest standards. The second pathway is to make the country a green nation that is resilient against climate change. It’s based on a proactive view, which includes adopting renewable energy and circular economy, reducing waste, and investing green infrastructure. It also takes into consideration natural capital. This will ensure that the country can successfully compete with the best economies in the world. The third pathway is designed to make human potential the leading force of the future. It does this by accelerating green legislation, developing innovative approaches to environmental education and awareness, and innovating in the area of environmentally-friendly science and technology. This plan calls for the integration of all these principles into future government work at every level, so that environmental considerations can be at heart of development programs and policies.
It is important to recognize that these developments are not accidental. They are part of a legacy that preserves the natural resources of nature. It is clear that the difficulties of living in a dry desert environment are behind the residents’ commitment to a noble culture that preserves the limited water available and protects plants and animals. However, it is true that decades of rapid development which saw the extreme use of natural resources to the point of near-depletion and an illustrious expansion of cities, transportation networks and industry caused huge damage to the environment. However, the ambitious plans of governments today show that they have acknowledged the problem and are now working towards solving it with the new principles of sustainability. Modern plans that go beyond noble wishes and sentiments are necessary to solve the complex environmental problems of this difficult era.
When I was reading the details about the Environment Centennial 2071 my conversation with Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan a quarter of a hundred years ago, which was the topic of the cover story in Environment & Development magazine November 1997. This man was an environmentalist by nature. His ideas were based on sustainable development principles, compatible with the limitations nature. He called for “nature to be in balance again” during that interview. If man’s livelihood is secured while the safety and well-being of animals are not, there will be a lack in fairness which could lead to the demise of human development. A capable man must do his best to protect both. When I asked him about why he was planting forests within the desert, his answer was that he wanted to achieve “the limitless of man and nature” in addition to the fact the green cover contributes towards the moderation and cessation of desertification. Sheikh Zayed explained that land is valuable when it produces useful yields. When it makes a person happy, he feels at home and relaxed. We started by focusing on human dignity, knowledge and livelihood. Then we moved to other matters such as conserving nature and wildlife, and reintroducing endangered species to their natural habitats. Integral life is in all of God’s creatures.
Sheikh Zayed’s words make it clear that any plan to care for the environment and achieve sustainable development must be rooted in the region’s heritage, which was built on the careful use of scarce resources and protection of nature, the source of all life. Every new initiative in this area is a return to the roots using modern technology and scientific discoveries.
Although long-term plans can be useful and necessary, they are not without their basic principles. The first principle is to set clear goals and link them with a timetable. This prevents grand plans, which can be planned for twenty-five years or more, from being used as an excuse to fail to achieve immediate and near goals. It is essential to conduct periodic reviews to assess progress towards achieving the goals. Also, it is important to set up mechanisms to identify errors early on, so that the course can be changed before it is too late. This is true for both the UAE Environmental Centennial 2071 as well as international plans to achieve climate goals before 2050.