The challenges to the natural environment today are immense. The UAE faces the impact of rapid development and the effects of climate change and global warming. Protection of environment and sustainable development are key topics which receive great attention from the UAE Government.
The UAE's rapid economic development made the country face serious environmental challenges that arise from the high pace of population growth, the increase in the demand for energy and water and the fast-paced urban development accompanied with high level of GHG and other emissions in the UAE.
According to the Living Planet Report 2010 by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) (PDF, 3 MB), the UAE was rated number one in the world for having the biggest ecological footprint. The ecological footprint is a measure of a country's sustainability that compares the use of natural resources per person per capita, which is expressed by a unit of bio-productive land called the 'global hectare' (gha).
Key environment threats include:
Invasive species are a key factor with negative effects on the UAE's biodiversity. Many species enter the region as a result of increase in commercial activity and through illicit trade in wild species. Some plants that can bear the high temperature and salinity have been admitted to the country to be used in the cultivation of forests and landscaping within cities, while other species have been admitted as personal possessions.
Foreign species expect to cause serious consequences on wildlife, in particular, and the environment in general. There are many migratory species and wild animals that use certain areas of the country to spread from. These species include sea turtles, dugongs, birds of prey and sharks. These species, just like other wild animals, are exposed to various risks that threaten their existence.
On a per-capita basis, the UAE's energy, water and carbon footprints are amongst the highest in the world as the hot and dry climate requires a high amount of energy and import of many goods that cannot be produced in the country.
Limited water sources
The UAE's natural freshwater sources are rare and limited to groundwater. The government is increasingly resorting to desalinated water, which has been produced using excess heat from electricity generation. This has caused impact on the marine environment from discharging highly concentrated seawater to the Arabian Gulf, etc.
Marine life faces a number of threats such as over-fishing. Marine species including fish and coral are also increasingly affected by climate change. The UAE has been reliant on fisheries as main sources of diet but the stress on marine habitat is increasing.
Read UAE Aquaculture Guide (PDF, 1.5MB).
The UAE's per-capita waste generation is among the world's highest, the majority of which ends up in landfills. These pressures have motivated the government to take effective policy actions and to build scenarios and coordinated strategies to reduce any significant negative environment impact and to protect biodiversity and ecosystem.
Keeping the ambient air quality within required standards has been one of the main challenges to the environment authorities in the country. Pollution is largely affected by human activities, the emissions from fuel combustion for energy, water and transport and industrial activities.
Land degradation and desertification
Human factors represented in population increase and the change in social order pattern and consumption systems, play a major role in increasing land degradation and desertification. Drought and over-exploitation of natural resources are the main factors that cause desertification.
The increasing pressure on natural resources, water resources and urban encroachment on arable land, along with the intense use of pesticides and fertilisers and overgrazing are contributing to the deterioration of soil.
The UAE is also among the arid land countries on the Arabian Peninsula that has been engaged in the fight against desertification for many years.
On the other hand, the UAE's climatic conditions such as high temperatures, evaporation, relative humidity and low average rainfall, play a major role in the degradation of land and of fragile ecosystems characterised by vulnerable vegetation and erodible soil.
The human and climatic factors discussed above have caused soil erosion. Wind leads to soil erosion, which results in dust storms depending on wind intensity.
Its impact is deeper in areas with deteriorating vegetation and perhaps erosion caused by wind. This has significant impact on the movement of soil components and their mobility from one place to another, which leads to sand encroachment and dunes' formation. These dunes or quicksand may encroach to arable lands, civil facilities and public roads and sometimes cause damage to them.
Erosion is also caused by water due to surface water runoff or because of the raindrops impact on soil.
Its effect increases as a result of heavy rains and runoff and as water erodes and deposits soft soil components in other locations.
Canyons and valleys are formed and increase in size with time. Loss of soft clay particles and floods result in the prevalence of loose sand in the surface layer of soil which leads to formation of superficial loose sand layer exposed to erosion by wind.
Climatic changes and frequent drought periods have led to a decline and degradation in natural pastures, resulting in increased numbers of grazing animals per area unit, which in turn led to the disappearance of favourite grazing plants and the spread of least palatable plants.
Due to intensive grazing, lands have become semi-naked and suffer degraded vegetation and soil.