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Minister of Climate Change and Environment Highlights UAE’s Efforts to Combat Desertification at High-level Panel

To mark World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought 2020, held under the motto ‘Food. Feed. Fiber’, His Excellency Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, participated in a virtual high-level ministerial panel organized by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

His Excellency Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of UNCCD and Under-Secretary-General of the UN, moderated the discussion under the theme ‘Is it time for a new social contract for nature?’. Alongside His Excellency Dr Al Zeyoudi, the panel comprised His Excellency Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Rural Transformation, Industry and Labor of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, His Excellency Babul Supriyo, Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change of India, Her Excellency Marieme Bekaye, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development of Mauritania, and His Excellency Francesco La Camera, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The session brought global attention to the need to incorporate a comprehensive land restoration approach in the post-COVID-19 recovery strategy to tackle desertification and drought challenges around the world.

In his intervention, His Excellency Dr Al Zeyoudi said: “Throughout the five decades of the UAE’s existence, we prioritized environmental protection as the cornerstone of the country’s development journey. To guide our biodiversity and ecosystem conservation efforts, we have issued the National Biodiversity Strategy and the National Strategy to Combat Desertification 2014-2021. In 2020, we announced five new protected areas. This takes their total number to 49, accounting for 15.5 percent of the country’s territory.”

He added: “To strike the right balance between environmental protection and economic development, we are currently working on the Smart Map of Natural Capital of the UAE that will inform decision-making on land use, investment, and business improvement. Due for completion in Q4 2020, the map will identify local biodiversity-rich ecosystems and services they provide to the environment, in addition to an economic valuation of these services.

“And to boost community participation in the government’s drive to preserve local biodiversity and to protect and restore the natural habitats of indigenous flora, we launched the Gheras app. It offers the public access to a complete database of local plant species and ways to care for them. The app’s user base is growing every day, and so is the number of seeds and saplings planted.”

His Excellency Dr Al Zeyoudi noted that the UAE is building back better and is on track to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15: Life on Land that focuses on land restoration and biodiversity conservation.

Highlighting the importance of new technologies in this regard, he said: “Agricultural technologies have helped us address the many challenges we face while growing crops, such as water scarcity and lack of arable land. In addition to the growing number of hydroponics and vertical farms, we are currently exploring the potential of using renewable energy to power climate-controlled agricultural facilities and to desalinate water for irrigation.”

He added: “We recently announced the success of the pilot phase of an innovative project. We managed to grow rice in the desert using water-saving technologies and rice varieties that can tolerate heat and salinity. We are proud of this breakthrough, as it serves as a baseline for growing other crops that we never thought could be suitable for our desert climate.”

Speaking on the Ministry’s use of drones to improve the agricultural sector, he said: “Another solution that helps us restore degraded areas and protect our natural resources is drone technology. To compile a highly accurate agricultural database that informs decision making, we conducted a drone survey of agricultural areas spanning 1,100 square kilometers to map as many as 51 categories of statistical data. And we didn’t stop there. We also used drones to spread seeds. Our drone-enabled local planting project helped disperse six million acacia seeds and 250,000 ghaf seeds across large areas in 25 locations. We are currently monitoring these locations to assess the success of the project, but it certainly looks promising.”

According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), some 500 million people live in areas facing desertification. These regions are more vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events, such as droughts, heatwaves, and dust storms.


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