x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

12 Emiratis to head south on polar expedition

A dozen Emiratis are heading off on a two-week Antarctica expedition on Friday to raise awareness about climate change.

A dozen Emiratis are heading off on a two-week Antarctica expedition on Friday to raise awareness about climate change.
A dozen Emiratis are heading off on a two-week Antarctica expedition on Friday to raise awareness about climate change.

DUBAI // A polar explorer is hoping that the Emiratis who accompany him on an expedition to Antarctica this week will have an epiphany on the negative impact of climate change - and return home to spread the word.

There are 12 Emiratis among the group of 65 people heading out on the 14-day trip on Friday. They will be accompanied by Robert Swan, a UK resident and the first person to have walked unassisted to both the North and South Poles.

He is hoping to open the eyes of the delegates to the effects of climate change, so that they can become ambassadors for the movement in the UAE.

"This is not a holiday or stunt," said Mr Swan. "It's a serious effort to engage the Middle East in the climate dialogue.

"The UAE has the highest per capita carbon footprint in the world. I hope these people can return home with an understanding of climate change, and make a difference in inspiring people."

The 55-year-old regularly travels the world on a renewable energy-run yacht as a motivational speaker promoting environmental awareness. He also conducts regular tours to Antarctica.

This journey will take the group across the "Drake Passage" from Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica. The crossing is said to be especially arduous, with high waves and freezing winds, Mr Swan said. Participants are advised to wear at least four layers of clothing.

Along the way he will show the group satellite images of the frozen continent from two years ago, pointing out to them how many of the ice caps have melted since then.

They will then arrive at a base camp owned by Mr Swan's company, 2041, which is run entirely on renewable energy.

Taryam al Subaihi, coporate communications advisor for Etihad Airways, is among the Emiratis who will fly to Argentina later this week to take part in the voyage. In the past few weeks he has been hitting the gym for intense workouts in preparation for the journey.

"This is the adventure of a lifetime," he said. "It's the perfect way to bring home the message of the environment. It also shows how far Emiratis can go as a people."

Mr Swan launched his environmental organisation eight years ago to protect Antarctica from environmental damage. His 2041 project, which is named after that date when commercial exploration of the region could begin if the 1959 Antarctic Treaty System is not renewed, introduces people from across the world to Antarctica. He has so far taken 600 people on Antarctic expeditions, including Ajman's Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Ali al Nuaimi, known locally as the "Green Sheikh".

Mr al Nuaimi, who has helped Mr Swan find candidates for the upcoming trip after going last year, said that seeing the actual damage caused by global warming on the polar ice would be eye-opening for participants.

"For someone who hasn't experienced this, they will have a breakthrough," he said. "They will see the bigger picture. They will be taken outside their comfort zone to see something very different."

The majority of participants this year are from India and China, two developing nations with a growing carbon footprint. The Emiratis include employees of Dubai International Airport, Etihad, the Shell Oil Company and some top universities. The candidates are selected for their leadership potential, and each funds his own portion of the trip.

One participant, an Emirati woman, has already overcome a big hurdle: winning the support of her husband and family to go on the trip.

"It's a challenge, but it will show that Emirati women are leaders, that they have equal rights with men, and that they can accomplish the impossible," said Mr Swan.

The flight from Abu Dhabi to Ushuaia is almost 9,000km, not including stopovers, and is followed by a journey via ship. Each individual accumulate a carbon footprint of 10 tonnes of Co2 on the trip - about the equivalent of what the average European household produces in a year.

The onus will be on each of them to pay back that debt when they return by inspiring others to change their attitudes toward the environment.

"I tell them that 'you better make this worthwhile'," he said. "'You have to off-set 10 tonnes when you return home'."

mcroucher@thenational.ae