ABU DHABI // Twenty-five schools are to conduct "green audits" in an attempt to cut their energy use and environmental impact. The mandatory audits are being carried out under a joint initiative by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) and the oil company BP.
The schools, state and private, will be given a "green manual" carrying instructions on how to audit water, air, energy, waste and land use. The EAD hopes that they will reduce their water and electricity use once they become aware of their levels of consumption. At the end of the year, awards will be given to schools that make the most progress. Teachers will be trained in environmental education and there are plans for environmental clubs to be set up in schools.
The initiative follows Abu Dhabi Education Council's announcement in the spring that it would build 50 sustainable schools. "We're working with the council to have a full curriculum, introducing ecological footprints and climate change issues," said Majid al Mansouri, secretary general of the EAD. The average energy consumption among schools in the UAE is not known. However, Gayatri Raghwa, a specialist at the EAD's environment education department, said each should ideally use 35 to 45 litres of water per pupil for an eight-hour school day and 33 megajoules of electricity per pupil.
"Next year we will have a better picture, because all these schools will have given us data," Mrs Raghwa said. "Nothing like this has never been done before. This is the first time we have done it, so there is no average that has been calculated for schools, and there are so many varieties of schools here." The UAE is the fifth highest per capita energy consumer in the world. The average resident consumes seven times the global average.
A UN Development Programme report in July said the UAE faced some of the worst water shortages in the Arab world. In March, the EAD put the average daily consumption of water in the UAE at 550 litres per person, among the highest in the world. The agency gave warning that the underground water reserve would be gone in 50 years if changes were not made. Karan Raghwa, co-ordinator of the nature club at the Abu Dhabi Indian School, said commercial buildings often wasted resources because no one scrutinised the bills.
"Forget about the children, even the adults will not realise how much electricity or water is being used up because none of us are footing the bill," he said. "It goes out of whatever income is generated by the school but, actually, no one comes to know." When the audit is carried out at his school, Mr Raghwa plans to discuss the effect that government subsidies have on excessive electricity and water use, and to discuss the UAE's water shortage.
Mr Raghwa said older pupils were well aware of the environmental impact of the desalination process. "I hope at least some of them will realise that they have to do something," Mr Raghwa said. "It will benefit the school management and the students, they will come to know how much water they are wasting." The school has been a pioneer in environmental education in Abu Dhabi. Its nature club, Prakriti, was started in 1992 and has as many as 2,000 active members.
Environmental education ranges dramatically from school to school in the UAE. It is an important part of some private school curricula, but not others. Mr Raghwa believes that the new initiative could have a significant impact on the community. "A hundred per cent change is not possible because old habits die very hard," he said. "But we have a school of about 5,000 - even if 45 per cent carry it back home it will make an impact."