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Let’s watch our Footprints …

The Ecological Footprint Initiative was launched in 2007 through a partnership between the Ministry of Environment and Water, Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi, EWS-WWF and the Global Footprint Network

| | Sep 16, 2012 | 2:54 pm
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The Ecological Footprint Initiative was launched in 2007 through a partnership between the Ministry of Environment and Water, Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi, EWS-WWF and the Global Footprint Network, transforming the UAE from a country with one of the highest per capita Ecological Footprints in the world to one with some of the most advanced Ecological Footprint science. Here is a summary of the report on the initiative.

From 2007 to 2011, the Ecological Footprint Initiative succeeded in verifying the UAE footprint, identifying the breakdown of the footprint by sector and developed a scientific scenario-modelling tool for decision makers that assesses the impact of different policies to reduce the country’s footprint by 2030.

In 2012, the partnership welcomed the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology. The Ecological Footprint Initiative is now continuing to verify the UAE’s footprint, developing an energy efficiency standard for domestic lighting and conducting a socio-economic analysis to prioritise policies that will help manage both the demand and supply of energy and desalinated water.

The Ecological Footprint

The Ecological Footprint tracks humanity’s demands on the biosphere by comparing humanity’s consumption against the Earth’s regenerative capacity, or biocapacity. It does this by calculating the area required to produce the resources people consume, the area occupied by infrastructure, and the area of forest required for sequestering CO2 not absorbed by the ocean. The report highlights that it takes 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate the renewable resources that people use, and absorb to CO2 waste they produce, in that same year. The average global per capita footprint is about 2.7 global hectares; Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE have some of the highest per capita Ecological Footprints at 11.68, 9.72, and 8.44, followed by Denmark at 8.25 and the USA at 7.19.

The summary – a journey towards a lower footprint

The United Arab Emirates is a rapidly developing country which has experienced a long period of extraordinary economic growth, resulting in an increasing rate of consumption of natural resources.

As a hot and dry country, the UAE requires energy for cooling and for desalination of domestic water supplies. Combined with this is the inefficient consumption of natural resources. These factors have resulted in a high per capita Ecological Footprint (Footprint) for the UAE, which is currently the third highest in the world at 8.4 global hectares (gha) per person. About 80% of this footprint is due to the consumption of carbon-intensive goods and services and, in particular, energy.

In 2007, the UAE launched the Ecological Footprint Initiative to address its high per capita Footprint, and in doing so, became the third country in the world after Japan and Switzerland to embark on in-depth research to understand and manage its Footprint. The initiative was set up through a unique public, private and civil society partnership between the Ministry of Environment and Water; the Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi; Emirates Wildlife Society in association with WWF (EWS-WWF); and the Global Footprint Network, and more recently with the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology.

By working to understand the UAE’s natural resource consumption patterns, the partners have helped catalyse change in both societal awareness and policy development: in its first two years, the initiative verified the UAE’s Ecological Footprint data and identified the contribution of different sectors to the country’s footprint. It discovered that households in the UAE are responsible for 57% of the country’s consumption, followed by business and industry contributing 30% and the government sector contributing 12%. As a result, the need to empower society to play an active role in reducing the country’s Ecological Footprint was highlighted.

To help address this issue among the UAE community, EWS-WWF launched its Heroes of the UAE awareness campaign in partnership with the Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi.

In 2010, the initiative outlined how a set of different policies are needed to help address consumption issues related to energy and water. By focusing on the supply and demand of energy and water, the analysis showed that by the year 2030, measures such as more ambitious renewable energy targets, stronger building codes and energy efficiency standards for appliances, could help reduce CO2 emissions for the emirate of Abu Dhabi by up to 40% and the UAE’s per capita Footprint by 1 gha/person. This scenario modelling demonstrated the clear need for any footprint mitigation strategy to include a portfolio of policy measures as the cumulative impact is much greater than individual policies.

By strengthening and continuing such science-based analysis, the initiative can help decision makers implement policies and strategies to mitigate the impacts of rapid development.

The second phase of the initiative began in 2012 and follows a three track process:

  • Track 1 focuses on the development of a policy demonstration cycle for a low-hanging fruit policy option, specifically research to inform the development of a UAE lighting standard for the household sector.
  • Track 2 focuses on conducting a socio-economic assessment of policies outlined in the first phase of the initiative.
  • Track 3 will look into verifying the UAE’s Footprint and communicating the results to policy makers.

The experiences and vital knowledge gained from the Ecological Footprint Initiative have benefited the country by creating opportunities for UAE government leaders and residents to move towards increasingly sustainable development. Initiatives that actively encourage sustainable development, and most importantly, facilitate collaboration between the public, private and civil society sectors, bringing everyone’s efforts together, are essential to catalyse the change needed for the UAE, the region and the world to make the transition towards a sustainable future within our one planet limit.


Global and regional urgency to tackle climate changeThe partnership of the Ecological Footprint Initiative confirms its ongoing commitment towards reducing the UAE’s Ecological Footprint, and highlights the need to continue establishing science-based policies, in light of international launch of the Living Planet Report 2012.With desert ecosystems, hot and dry climates, increased and wasteful consumption of natural resources and having experienced periods of rapid growth, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE feature prominently in the report with high per capita Ecological Footprints. More than 70% of these countries footprints are attributed to the consumption of carbon intensive goods and services (such as energy), which echoes a global pattern where carbon is the main contributor to the world’s Ecological Footprint, at 54%. This highlights the need for more urgent action to reduce carbon emissions, which cause climate change, and adapt to its inevitable impacts.The report highlights the fact that the GCC region is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change with potential implications, such as increasing temperatures, sea level rise threatening coastal developments and tourism, threatened food production and water resources, adverse impacts on human health and negative impacts on biodiversity, such as the bleaching of coral reefs in the region. This would be likely to affect the country’s development, economy and human health.Supporting the need for more action to address climate change and our over consumption of natural resources, HE Dr Rashid Bin Fahad, Chairman of the Ecological Footprint Initiative and Minister of the Environment and Water, said: “As part of the global community, the UAE is developing and adopting international best practices to promote clean energy and efficient use of resources. This is evidenced by the steps taken to include the environment as a core pillar in its development visions, such as the UAE Vision 2021 and the UAE’s Green Economy Initiative.”

HE Bin Fahad stressed that no sector alone can solve these issues and so there is a need to continue working collaboratively and constructively to realise a more sustainable path for the UAE and the world.

Encouraging the region to move forward with effective and urgent action to mitigate its Footprint and adapt to the impacts of climate change, Ida Tillich, Acting Director General of EWS-WWF, the secretariat of the Ecological Footprint Initiative said: “With the region’s unique circumstances, the GCC countries have a great opportunity to play a pivotal role demonstrating how countries can contribute to a low carbon future through adopting renewable energy options and managing demand of natural resources. The UAE, in particular, has started taking strides in this regard. One example is the Ecological Footprint Initiative, which is now developing an energy efficiency standard for domestic lighting for the country while conducting socio-economic analysis to prioritise policies to help manage both the demand and supply of energy and desalinated water. Our natural environment is the integral foundation for our heritage, and we are eager to continue working in partnership with all sectors of society to develop more sustainably within the limits of our one planet.”

The Living Planet ReportPublished by WWF every two years, the Living Planet Report measures the state and health of our ecosystems and the extent of human demands on these ecosystems. Using the Ecological Footprint Indicator, this year’s Living Planet Report highlights that humanity’s consumption of natural resources such as energy, food, fibre and timber is 1.5 times more than the Earth can regenerate.The report is intended to be the monitoring instrument for measuring and assessing the state of global biodiversity (through the Living Planet Index) and human demands on nature (through the Ecological Footprint). The Living Planet Report 2012 uses data dated from 2008Living Planet Index:The Living Planet Index reflects changes in the state of the planet’s biodiversity, using trends in population size for vertebrate species from different biomes and regions to calculate average changes in abundance over time. It includes data from more than 9,000 different wildlife monitoring schemes collected in a wide variety of ways – ranging from counting the number of individual animals, to camera trapping, to surveys of nesting sites and animal traces. The Living Planet Report 2012 highlights a global average decline of about 28% in vertebrate populations between 1970 and 2008.

The report acts as a health check on our planet and estimates that by 2030 we will need the equivalent of two planets to meet our annual demands of energy and resources. We can create a prosperous future that provides food, water and energy for the nine billion people who will be sharing the planet in 2050. But changes must be made to reduce our carbon footprint and consuming better, wiser and less.

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