By Shafaat Ahmed www.khaleejtimes.com
Contrary to the common perception that the industries and business entities are responsible for most of the country’s pollution or carbon footprint, the Ecological Footprint Initiative (EFI) undertaken by the Emirates Wildlife Society (EWS) has found out that 57 per cent of the UAE’s eco footprint is contributed by households.
Though the UAE government, which has one of the world’s highest eco footprints, and its corporate sector are coming together to find out ways to reduce the country’s carbon emissions — EFI being one such step—environmentalists feel not much could be done unless the common people volunteer to change their lifestyle.
“Many people know that environment is an issue, but they don’t think seriously about it. There are also a lot of people who don’t realise the harm they cause to the environment by their common day-to-day actions. To make a difference, one needs to look at themselves and ponder for a minute on what they do; one doesn’t have to go out of the box to make a difference,” Habiba Al Marashi, chairperson of Emirates Enviromental Group, told Khaleej Times on the occasion of Earth Day.
From the food we eat to cars we drive and the clothes we wear or water we use, every step we take in our daily life contributes to the ecological footprint of the country.
“What we have to do is make small lifestyle changes like making sure lights are not switched on unnecessarily, buying only locally or regionally produced food, shunning the use of plastic bags etc. It’s the small decisions that a person takes individually that count. If even half of the population decides to take only a five-minute shower daily, water consumption would drastically come down which would in turn reduce carbon emissions from desalination plants,” said Al Marashi.
Going by the participation at environmental events like Earth Hour or Earth Day seems that the awareness level among people has increased. But does this enthusiasm go beyond the hour or the day? This is the question the EWS is trying to tackle head on.
“Switching off lights for an Earth Hour or participating in an event celebrating Earth Day won’t make any difference. That is the reason why we launched an online platform this year called ‘Beyond the Hour’, which engages people round the year and helps understand environmental issues and trains them in ways to reduce carbon footprint,” said Reem Al Thawadi, communication officer of EWS.
With results of the EFI pointing at the households, the EWS is trying to engage women and children through interactive programmes like Beyond the Hour and Heroes of the UAE and the participation, Al Thawadi said, is really encouraging.
However, Al Thawadi feels it’s not the household alone that needs to act. “The corporate sector, the industries and the government also play a huge role as they collectively contribute to 42 per cent of the footprint. Hence the shift in the lifestyle has to be collective.”
It is to chalk out a collective environmental strategy for the country and initiate a national shift of lifestyle that the EWS in association with the Ministry of Environment and Water, Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Date Initiative and the Global Footprint Network embarked on the EFI in 2007.
In 2006, the country’s per capita CO2 emission was 11.68 GHA, highest in the world, which hasn’t change much and the EFI has formulated a strategy to reduce that by 40 per cent by 2030.
“Apart from gaining valuable scientific insights over the last three years, the EFI has been successful in notifying which sectors are responsible for what levels of emissions and, accordingly, making recommendations to tackle the problem. It has also found out activities that cause maximum emissions and hence helped the government as well as the civil society to form a right strategy for the future,” added Al Thawadi.
The EWS has launched a dedicated website — www.ecologicalfootprint.heroesoftheuae.ae — where people can learn all about the concept and train themselves in reducing individual carbon emissions.