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
Man-made factors such as population increase, human activities that degrade the quality of soils and land utility 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.
Desertification, land degradation and drought are global concerns affecting the lives of millions of people and pose serious challenges to sustainable development. They aggravate economic, social and environmental problems such as poverty, ill health, food insecurity, loss of biodiversity, water scarcity, reduced resilience to climate change and forced migration.
The UAE developed the National Strategy to Combat Desertification 2014-2021 which was aligned with the global efforts to fight desertification. It also issued many decisions, projects and initiatives at the national level that would limit desertification and land degradation.
Read more about combating desertification in the UAE.