The UAE had the world's highest per capita environmental footprint for the third time in a row, according to a report released yesterday by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The Living Planet report, conducted with the Global Footprint Network and the Zoological Society of London, put the UAE's per capita environmental footprint higher than those of Qatar, Denmark, Belgium and the United States.
The biennial report evaluates 152 countries based on a calculation of what portion of the planet that people living in the countries need to sustain their lifestyles. The environmental footprint ultimately measures the territory - be it cropland, grazing land, forest or fishing grounds - required to produce the food, fibre and wood a country consumes, in addition to the land on which necessary infrastructure will be built and that is needed to absorb the waste and carbon dioxide (CO2) released by a community. The burning of fossil fuels accounts for the largest portion of the footprint. The report was produced based on statistics from 2007, when the world's economy, including that of the UAE, was booming.
And scale matters: while the UAE has the highest per-capita footprint, 10.68 hectares per person, it represents only 0.3 per cent of humanity's total ecological footprint. Half of the countries studied in the report are living beyond their environmental means. In fact, in 2007, humans used up 50 per cent more resources than the Earth could produce. The report predicts that by 2030, humanity will need the equivalent of two Earths to satisfy its needs.
Overall, developed countries topped the study's ranking, while some of the world's poorest countries are ranked at the bottom, with Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, coming in last. "This is to be expected, given that the UAE is a rapidly developing country that is investing heavily in construction, infrastructure development, provision of water, electricity and food, which has resulted in an increasing rate of consumption of natural resources, particularly energy," said Razan al Mubarak, the managing director of the Emirates Wildlife Society - World Wide Fund for Nature.
"The ranking is not where we want to be," said Majid al Mansouri, secretary general of Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD). "Yet we are making real progress with our partners to encourage positive environmental change," he said. Because the report relied on data from 2007, it does not account for the effect of some UAE initiatives that would reduce the country's footprint. For example, the effect of initiatives such as Masdar, the world's first carbon-free city, new green-building regulations, and Dubai's Metro system have not been figured into the calculations.
"We encourage every citizen and resident to help us reduce our ecological footprint," said Mr al Mansouri. The report also focuses on biodiversity, estimating declines of an average of 30 per cent between 1970 and 2007. Water is another focus. While scientists conclude that there is enough water for human needs, the challenge is to secure it "in a way that does not destroy the very ecosystems from which we take our water supplies".
The report mentions the Yellow River in China, the Murray River in Australia and the Rio Grande, on the border between the US and Mexico, as examples of rivers running dry because of over-extraction. Water pollution, especially in the developing world, is also mentioned as an issue; an estimated two million tonnes of sewage and other pollutants draining into the world's waters every day, according to the report.