x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE slips down green league table

Experts call for more effort but authors acknowledge government claim that some information they have used was out of date.

Part of the government's environmental policy has been the protection of areas and species. Above, the Abu Dhabi mangroves.
Part of the government's environmental policy has been the protection of areas and species. Above, the Abu Dhabi mangroves.

The UAE has slumped to near the bottom of a table that measures countries' environmental health and public policy. It was placed 152nd out of 163 countries, down from 112th in the previous report by environmental experts at America's Yale and Columbia universities two years ago.

The 2010 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) rates each country in categories that include environmental health, air quality, water resource management, climate change, habitats and agriculture. It will be released in full next week. In the third biannual report since 2006, Iceland was ranked first and Sierra Leone last. The UAE came ahead of a handful of African countries, as well as Haiti and Turkmenistan. It ranked second last in the Arab world, before Mauritania. China and India were 121st and 123rd respectively.

"Many African countries are above us in the ranking," said Dr Sandra Knuteson, assistant professor of environmental science at the American University of Sharjah. "The UAE is a developed country according to the indices, yet this report shows that it is worse in environmental management than many developing countries. "I have tried to stress the need for improvement in environmental management throughout the UAE and GCC countries.

"Over four years of my residence here, I have seen improvement in the UAE, but I worry that it is seen as more of a PR campaign rather than as a global need for change." The report, which acknowledged complaints made by the Government when the 2008 report was released that many of the UAE's indicators and figures were out of date, comes six months after the UAE was chosen to host the United Nations' International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena).

The UAE was in the bottom 10 in several indicators of "ecosystem vitality", which measure environmental health, such as outdoor air quality and emissions in populated areas. Outdoor air quality refers to the number of suspended particles in the atmosphere that can contribute to respiratory infections and diseases. While no data was available for the quality of drinking water, over-consumption of resources was a factor in the low ranking.

The report said the UAE had not properly protected its biomes, which include communities of animal and plant life. The country also had a low ranking, 88th, for the percentage of marine environment with habitats protected by the Government, which includes coral reefs and mangrove forests. However, the indicators the report uses do not show a decline in marine animals and fisheries. Referring to this, Dr Knuteson said: "Some of the data for the UAE seems to be inaccurate."

The UAE is lagging in implementing pesticide regulations outlined in international conventions, which limit or outlaw the use of certain toxic chemicals, according to the report. It was rated 116th in this category. The Emirates also has high greenhouse emissions per capita, in which it ranked 159th, and carbon dioxide emissions relative to the total electricity generated, being placed 139th. The Ministry of Environment and Water and the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi did not respond to requests for comment.

When the last EPI report was released in 2008, the environment agency said much of the data was outdated and did not take into consideration the difference in climate between the UAE and other countries. Several indicators use data from the United Nations, World Health Organisation and the World Bank, as well as policy targets set out by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change and other organisations.

While some data is from 2009, other indicators have been hampered by the lack of more recent statistics. The report's authors acknowledged "severe data gaps [and] weaknesses in methodological consistency" in data collection, and the lack of a system to verify data reported by governments. An environmental consultant who worked with the Government, and did not want to be named, said: "If you look at the compliance with the number of international conventions that the UAE is a signatory to, there is a way to go."

Such conventions included the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships. @Email:kshaheen@thenational.ae