Think about how much work has gone into Dubai: shiny skyscrapers, the man-made islands, the world’s biggest this and that. Now think about how, according to some reports, all of this could be submerged within 50 years if global warming continues at an accelerated pace. That’s a lot of work gone to waste.
Wafa Faisal agrees. She is one of four young Emiratis selected to act as a climate champion for the UAE. This means she’s working on raising awareness about how climate change can affect our community, and will hopefully influence us to rethink our environmentally unfriendly behaviour. Faisal and her three UAE co-champions recently met with 21 other champions from the Middle East to discuss how they can make a difference. Brought together as part of the British Council’s Global International Climate Champion network – which boasts more than 1,000 champions from 60 countries worldwide – the champs focused on specific problem areas and started planning projects.
‘I believe the biggest problem we have here in the UAE is that most of our cities are located on the shore,’ Faisal tells Time Out. ‘So all of these towns could be drawn into the sea if we don’t take serious action.’ And flooding may not be the only problem the UAE faces. Rising temperatures are also likely to increase demand for water. As freshwater supplies fall, we’d rely more heavily on seawater desalination and, consequently, release more salts back into the sea. This would make our desalination plants less efficient, driving up demand for freshwater further. It’s a vicious circle that could prove difficult to break.
Faisal also believes one of our most pressing problems will be persuading people to switch to sustainable energy sources while they’re battling the effects of a recession. People may understand that their continued use of fossil fuels contributes to global warming, but may be less inclined to fork out for expensive renewable sources when cost cutting is essential. ‘They don’t worry about the environment, they worry about the bills they will pay at the end of each month,’ says Faisal. The way around this, she says, is to make alternative energy cheaper. She argues that people are more likely to use it if it reduces their bills, rather than out of any concern for the environment.
The UAE is already working on increasing the use of cleaner energy. The proposed Masdar City, brainchild of the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, is billed as being the world’s first zero CO2 emission city. It will be a place where future technologies can be funded and researched – aiming to become ‘the silicon valley for clean, green and alternative energy’ – it’s an example of how the UAE’s tendency to build the ‘first, biggest and best in the world’ can be put to good use. Hopefully it will help with Faisal’s vision, too.
Adel Azzam is also a UAE climate champion. He says that meeting other Middle East champions and learning more about the threats to our environment was an eye opener. ‘I thought: Oh my God, what are we doing? We have to move,’ he says. Azzam is adamant the people of the UAE can combat climate change, if only they are educated about it properly. ‘In Islam, it is mentioned we have to protect the environment,’ he says. ‘The real vision of our religion is not just doing our prayers. We have to understand what our religion is asking for, which is to do best practice always. Sheikh Zayed said the real wealth of any country is the people. This is a very wise, very simple way to tell you what the problem is and how to solve it.’ Azzam wants to focus on educating people about climate change from a young age so that ‘they will grow up with this awareness’.
Clearly our champs have some big ideas. And with a second workshop run by the British Council set to take place in October, which will train our ambassadors in communicating their ideas and winning over sponsors for projects, it won’t be long before they’re making themselves heard. Let’s hope we’re all ready to listen.
Learn more about the British Council’s International Climate Change Programme in the Middle East at www.britishcouncil.org/me. For more information on Masdar City, visit www.masdar.ae.