Environmental awareness in Dubai

How the UAE is tackling environmental issues both in and out of school


The planet is a mess. Not like an untidy bedroom mess, where a quick tidy and shoving the toys into cupboards will make it seem more presentable. More like an over-polluted, irreversibly-damaged and in-danger-of-becoming-unmanageable sort of mess.

In short, it needs to be cleaned up. Not just to protect endangered species and maintain the current environment, but to safeguard the planet for future generations. Environmental education and awareness is important for children. It is the youth, of course, who shall inherit the Earth.

While it is commonplace to hear about melting and retreating polar ice caps, the extinction of entire species of animals, disappearing ozone layers, climate change, ocean and air pollution, and deforestation, it is easy to think of these as foreign problems in distant lands. It isn’t true. These are global problems and ones that every school, family and child can help combat all over the world.

Emirates Wildlife Society and WWF (EWS-WWF) released a report in March 2017 highlighting the threat of climate change in the UAE. It identified the impact changing climates can have on factors such as food production, the economy and the energy sector, and was designed to raise awareness about the importance of practical action. “The UAE is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, as are all countries around the world,” says Laila Mostafa Abdullatif, Deputy Director General at EWS-WWF. “Its effects are already being felt, and are set to increase if we don’t act further. If these impacts and risks are left unmanaged, it could be more challenging and costly to achieve the UAE’s national strategies and plans.”

From nurturing endangered turtles and cleaning up beaches, to monitoring your carbon footprint and reducing wastage of energy and resources, there is a lot that can be done to teach children (and ourselves) about the environment...

In schools
Teaching children about green issues is taking centre stage in some schools, where ecological knowledge is valued as highly as any other subject. At Victory Heights in Dubai (www.vhprimary.com), for example, there is an ongoing gardening and healthy eating project known as Ground to Plate, with local programme Sandy Seeds (www.sandyseeds.com), which provides health awareness to schools and families across the emirate. “The project is a health and wellness awareness initiative aimed at teaching our children how to grow their own food and consider sustainability and self-sufficiency,” says school Principal Sasha Crabb. It has seen a visit from Stephen Ritz, of the hugely acclaimed Green Bronx Machine (www.greenbronxmachine.org) project, who is regarded as one of America’s greatest living educators and has inspired countless students across the planet to think environmentally. His visit to Victory Heights in Sports City to see school gardens is a significant boon to the facility and a tribute to the progressive work being done by students.

But Victory Heights is not the only school in the UAE promoting sustainable and environmental subjects to students. Curricula across the country are making our children think about the planet and their immediate environment. Safa Community School (www.safacommunityschool.com) also has a prevalent eco-code. Their #projectgreen saw more than 200 trees planted around the school and plans for a school farm will encourage more environmental awareness. “We are currently working towards receiving our Green Flag Award and are completing the seven step programme,” explains Head of Primary, Leanne Fridd. This process will see the creation of an environmental committee, as well as developing an action plan to embed eco issues further into the curriculum. “We have formed a connection with Greenhart Organic Farms, where our staff can order local, fresh produce on a weekly basis. We want our children to have learning experiences that will empower them to be better people and make a difference in the world, no matter how small,” she adds.

Elsewhere, there are more projects popping up. Taleem Dubai British School (www.dubaibritishschool.ae) has an outdoor learning area, complete with a Mud Kitchen and a sensory garden with fresh herbs, fruits and flowers. Meanwhile, Oaktree Primary (www.oaktreeprimary.com) has an initiative known as #HappyPlant, which saw students generate tens of thousands of social media impressions on a horticultural project. And Jumeirah International Nurseries has launched recycling collections and hosted environment conservation weeks this year.

Outside the classroom
It is not just schools, however, that are recognising the importance of environmental awareness. Projects across the UAE, whether at governmental, corporate or private levels, are gaining more and more attention. Having recognised the enormity of the carbon footprint caused by heavy industry and a construction boom, the nation is looking to address the eco-concerns head on. And these efforts are not going unnoticed.

Campaigning Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio was in the UAE earlier this year to visit Dubai’s Sustainable City (www.thesustainablecity.ae). The sustainable residential complex, which has the aim of producing clean energy for the 500 villas within, is just one of many projects here that recognise the importance of an environmental approach to life and business. Now entering the second phase of the project, Sustainable City has announced plans to have the first Net Zero Energy Hotel building in Dubai, the first Green School powered by solar energy, and The Diamond Innovation Centre, which produces 140 percent of its own energy.

It is Dubai Carbon (www.dcce.ae), a government agency, that is charged with slashing emissions in the UAE. At the moment, it is currently testing a pilot scheme that will turn wet waste from every household into a fuel source. Elsewhere in the city, you may have already seen smart changing rooms that utilise solar power to provide free Wi-Fi and charge for mobile phones to beachgoers in Umm Suqeim. And then there are also those special incentives given by Dewa (www.dewa.gov.ae) to any start-up businesses that can contribute to Dubai’s environmental reputation. The government has also been handing out seedlings to Emirati families in Abu Dhabi so they can expand green spaces in the capital. The planet is winning.

Hot fact!
According to the World Meteorological Organisation, 2016 was the hottest year on record. The global average was 0.06°C hotter than the previous record set in 2015. It may not sound much, but the planet is 1.1°C hotter than in pre-industrial times.

Bird conservation

Plans have been unveiled for an exciting expansion of Ras Al Khor’s Wildlife Sanctuary. Under the expert guidance of the UK’s Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Dubai Municipality will invest in a 5,000-square-foot visitor centre, as well as building new habitats and restoring old, degraded ones across the 634-hectare site. During the winter, the sanctuary supports more than 20,000 water birds and is a critical stopping-off point for birds using the East African-West Asian Flyway. Construction will start this year, with the centre due to open in 2018.

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