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If sea levels rose by nine metres because of climate change, all of Abu Dhabi and Dubai would be under water as the coast moved south by up to 30km.
If sea levels rose by nine metres because of climate change, all of Abu Dhabi and Dubai would be under water as the coast moved south by up to 30km.

Abu Dhabi 2100: under water?

Rising sea levels could leave the capital, Dubai and other populated coastal areas beneath the waves by the end of this century.

ABU DHABI // The UAE could lose up to six per cent of its populated and developed coastline by the end of the century because of rising sea levels, according to a government-sponsored report on the local impact of climate change released yesterday. A rise of one metre, the most modest scenario presented as not "unlikely" in the report, would put 1,155 square kilometres of the country's coast under water by 2050; while nine metres - the most dire - would see almost all of the capital and much of Dubai submerged.

"While we may not be able to pinpoint exactly when to expect a one-metre gradual rise in sea level, we do know that it may be sooner than most scientists ever thought possible," the report said. Climate Change: Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation was commissioned by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) and compiled by researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute in the United States. It marks the country's first effort to examine the impact on the coastline, interior and ecosystems from ongoing climate change caused by burning fossil fuels.

"The UAE is seriously concerned about climate change on many levels," said Majid al Mansouri, the EAD secretary general, at the release of the study yesterday. "We are a country that already faces extreme climatic conditions and has precious natural resources, so long-term variations in temperature and precipitation will produce adverse impacts." The report urges the UAE to make plans to mitigate its impact and accommodate changes. Officials said the study would be used to help the country address coming climate change, and also by UAE diplomats arguing the country's case in international climate negotiations that aim to set new limits on the emission of greenhouse gases.

Dr El Waleed Mohamed Hamad el Malik, a legal adviser at the EAD, said the study was commissioned as part of the country's dedication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. "We have an obligation under the convention to highlight the impacts of climate change," he said. The report, which focuses on Abu Dhabi in greatest detail, cautions that some of the emirate's most biologically-productive ecosystems, such as mangrove forests and seagrass beds, as well as flagship species such as the houbara bustard and marine turtles, are at an increased risk of extinction.

Populated coastline areas across the country are also extremely vulnerable, it said. "For coastal zones in the UAE - home to approximately 85 per cent of the population, over 90 per cent of the infrastructure, many sensitive ecological subsystems, and important cultural heritage sites - the vulnerability to climate change is very high," the study said. It warned that unless future development planning accounted for the changes, there would be unacceptable economic damages for the UAE's coastal zones.

The International Panel on Climate Change, the world's most authoritative scientific body on the subject, estimates that sea levels will rise by between 0.37 metres and 0.59m by the turn of the century. The actual fluctuation will depend on a number of variables, including how much global temperatures rise, and how that will affect glaciers and snow cover on polar caps. Because of the variability, the study focused on several scenarios. The first, involving the one-metre sea-level rise by 2050, would see Abu Dhabi lose a total of 344 square kilometres to the sea, including extensive mangrove areas, more than a hundred square kilometres of urban green spaces as well as 10 sq km of built-up area and roads.

Dubai would lose important infrastructure as well, the report said. The second assesses what would happen if the sea rose three metres by 2050, a scenario that would see flooding in the Mangrove Village development as well as parts of Industrial City south of the main island, with Abu Dhabi losing more than 800 sq km under water. A further projection for the entire country put sea levels rising nine metres by 2100, which would see 5,000 sq km - including all of the capital and Dubai - submerged. The shore would migrate south by up to 30km, and Jebel Dhanna and Al Mirfa would become islands.

"All coastal cities in the UAE will experience progressively increasing inundation, depending on the scenario analysed," the report said. The UAE report warns that despite uncertainty, some degree of global warming can be expected resulting in an unavoidable increase in sea levels. "The uncertainty of 'when' and 'to what extent' are we really vulnerable placates many into a 'wait and see' mentality," the report said.

The EAD last year drafted a policy on climate change, but the document is not likely to be released before the Ministry of Environment and Water, which is working on a national strategy, is ready with its own recommendations, Mr al Mansouri said. vtodorova@thenational.ae

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