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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

UAE environmentalists to travel to ends of the earth to inspire change

Team Zayed will travel to Antarctica then tour the UAE to explain how our actions affect the rest of the world

Children today will witness the results of glacial retreat in Antarctica. Andrew Peacock / AFP
Children today will witness the results of glacial retreat in Antarctica. Andrew Peacock / AFP

This month, three environmentalists from Abu Dhabi will travel to the ends of the earth to join polar-explorer Sir Robert Swan on the historic expedition Climate Force: Antarctica 2018.

The UAE team’s ‘Team Zayed’ includes Mariam Al Qassimi, the UAE co-ordinator of Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots programme, Rashed Al Zaabi, a mammalogist at the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), and Winston Cowie, the agency’s marine policy manager. They will be one of 30 international teams.

Upon their return, they will be touring the UAE to explain the link between our daily actions in Khalidiya and Karama and the frozen landscapes of the Antarctica.

Antarctica, explains Mr Cowie, is owned by nobody but belongs to all of us.

“We’re very motivated to see what’s happening down there, learn from some of the top experts in the world and then come back to the UAE and inspire people to change their every day behaviours and consider that we’re currently facing the challenge of our time in climate change,” says Mr Cowie. “It’s a life changer in that we’ll come back to the UAE and be responsible for energizing the community.”

The every day actions of individuals have a cumulative effect on on our planet, be it taking a cloth bag to the baqala or carrying a re-useable cup in the car for chai karak.

“Even if it’s just as simple as somebody committing to never using a plastic bag, it’s easy,” says Ms Al Qassimi.

Children and adults are invited to participate by signing up to the 2041 Climate Force Challenge to reduce their carbon footprint and keep a daily video or written diary of their resource consumption. The initiative was launched in Abu Dhabi by Jane Goodall in late January. Entries from the winning diaries will be selected for a film and book created by Team Zayed upon their return.

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Swan was the first man to walk to both the north and south poles and was entrusted by the French explorer Jacque Cousteau to save Antarctica by engaging youth and promoting renewable energy.

To that end, Swan organises regular trips for youth and environmental ambassadors to Antarctica and founded the 2041 Foundation, named for the year the Antarctic Treaty can be renegotiated. The treaty states that Antarctica can be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and international co-operation in scientific research.

“Rob is training some of the keenest young minds on climate change with a view that they negotiate the Treaty for the greater good of all in 2041,” explained Mr Cowie.

This expedition is a special one. In January, Swan and his son Barney were the first to make the 965-km journey to the south pole using only renewable energy.

This expedition begins from Ushuaia, Argentina, on the Ocean Endeavour with a 36-hour crossing of Drake’s Passage. Upon arrival, Team Zayed will travel through Neptune’s Bellows, a channel known for its strong winds, Deception Island, formed from an active volcano, and Vernadsky Research Base, a Ukrainian antarctic station. Between hikes and kayaking, the ship’s passengers will learn about climate change from leading scientists.

Mariam Al Qassimi, Winston Cowie, and Rashed Al Zaabi will be heading to the Antarctica this month with Sir Robert Swan. Reem Mohammed / The National
Mariam Al Qassimi, Winston Cowie, and Rashed Al Zaabi will be heading to the Antarctica this month with Sir Robert Swan. Reem Mohammed / The National

It may sound exotic but the message they will carry back to the UAE will be a local one.

For these three, the effects of climate change have already become apparent closer to home.

“Climate change is happening here,” says Mr Al Zaabi. “We’re doing research regarding amphibians and climate change here in the UAE. Our habitats are fragile, we do have a lot of invasive species and dramatic changes in climate will affect our biodiversity.”

Mr Cowie adds, “On the marine side, we’ve got a pretty unique marine environment here. In winter the sea temperatures get down to 16°C and in summer up to 36°C, so anything you find here is generally living at the limit of its range, like coral species. With increasing temperatures of the water, that’s going to have an impact.”