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UAE’s concentration of air pollutants within permissible national limits

Eng. Fahad Mohammad Hareb, Director of the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water’s Air Quality Department, explained that the country’s PM 2,5 levels as per the latest National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) annual study via satellite did not exceed an annual concentration of 30μg/m3 comparable to the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

The WHO’s Regional Strategy for Health and Environment 2014-2019 for the Eastern Mediterranean  has noted that the UAE has a very low mortality resulting from environmental consequences such as air pollution compared to other countries in the region. The results confirm that the country has undertaken significant efforts to improve the ambient air quality as an important component associated with quality of life. It also highlights the UAE National Agenda which will advances UAE Vision 2021’s goal of ensuring high quality of life for its citizens and residents in a sustainable environment.

 Eng. Hareb continued that air quality is one of the leading priorities under the UAE’s National Agenda because it is associated directly with human health, the environment and its impact on the economy. The country attaches great importance on improving air quality by achieving 90% of the WHO Air Quality guidelines as a target by 2021. Therefore, efforts have been taken to properly monitor and regulate emission levels throughout the emirates at the federal and local levels over the past years.

 He added: “We continue to strengthen both human and financial capacities in the field of monitoring and controlling through a large network of stations distributed throughout the UAE. There are currently 46 air quality monitoring stations, in addition to a range of dust monitoring stations in crusher and quarry sites as well as cement factories. The UAE has directed special attention towards the development of legislative frameworks necessary to reduce pollutants and emissions in order to improve air quality.”

 According to Eng. Hareb, the UAE’s air quality is exposed to many natural and manmade pressures as a result of development factors such as the increase in the number of industrial facilities, the rise in energy and water consumption, and growth in the number of vehicles due to the populations growth and demand. Owing to the UAE’s hot climate electricity consumption for air-conditioning consumes over 51% of a buildings annual electricity consumption, needed to ensure comfortable living standards within the region, yet even though the consumption levels are high over 90% the UAE’s fuel for the production of this energy is Natural gas, the cleanest and most efficient form of producing electricity from a carbon based fuel. Vehicle exhaust emissions are the next biggest contributor to the air emissions in the UAE followed by the heavy manufacturing industries. While all measures are being undertaken by the concerned authorities to reduce emissions and increase the Air Quality. It must also be noted that the natural environment in the region is also a big contributor to the air quality from naturally airborne dust particles, to major sand storms as well as contributions during high humidity, and naturally emitting minerals from coastal areas.

 In the context of promoting environmental sustainability, Eng. Hareb said that the Ministry is implementing all measures to transform the national economy into a low-carbon and green economy. It has accordingly launched a series of initiatives aimed at reducing pollutant concentrations, including the National Strategy for Green Development; promoting broader public transport; use of cleaner fuels such as unleaded gasoline, low-sulfur diesel (‘green’ diesel), and natural gas as an alternative fuel for vehicles; and the use of renewable and nuclear energy for generating electricity. In addition, it promotes Green Building Standards and green applications in government buildings such as district cooling technology which cuts down electricity usage by approximately 75 per cent while raising the efficiency of the air-conditioning system to improve performance and consequently reduce the environmental footprint. Interestingly, it is also one of the criteria of the Sheikh Khalifa Excellence Awards. In cooperation with the federal and local authorities, the Ministry is encouraging all sectors to adopt initiatives and implement programs to improve air quality and reduce emissions to secure a healthy environment and reduce the rate of pollution.

 He also added that the UAE is exerting great effort in monitoring ambient air quality, noting that data provided by monitoring stations on ambient air quality measure all the criteria required to calculate the air quality index as per the National Agenda . Air Quality National limits and permissible levels have all been previously set in accordance with the Council of Ministers Decree No. (12) for 2006 concerning air pollution, and Eng. Hareb said: “Currently, we are working on a study to develop a national standard for PM 2,5.

 In line with its ongoing efforts to improve the quality of ambient air, the Ministry recently signed an agreement with seven governmental agencies for the launch of the UAE Air Quality Network. The availability of the network allows for more concise monitoring and the agreement aims to improve air quality by reducing emissions from fixed sources, as well as moving sources such as from transportation. This will happen with the unification of methods for measuring concentrations of pollutants in ambient air, as well as a mechanism for reporting and dealing with the data related to the air quality in the UAE to calculate two dynamic indicators – the Air Quality Index (AQI) and the Index of Particulate Matter. Eng. Hareb revealed that the Ministry has signed a contract with Masdar Institute of Science and Technology to study the relationship between fine particles with diameters less than 10 μm and less than 2.5 microns in addition to air quality monitoring via satellite.

 Another project for reducing emissions from the transport sector is the use of natural gas as an alternative fuel for vehicles. Technical regulations, standards and guides for auto conversion to natural gas were planned and developed, with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) converting around 2,900 public transport buses and taxis in Abu Dhabi and opening 16 refueling stations. Additionally, Emirates Transport has converted over 1,600 taxis of various types and sizes to operate on natural gas, and work is currently under way to introduce hybrid vehicles (cars running on both gasoline and electricity) as well as plug in Electric Vehicles to the UAE market to greatly reduce traffic emissions within the city streets.

 Eng. Hareb also highlighted that in regards to improving the quality of fuel used in the transport sector, the Council of Ministers had issued a decision in 2013 to update product specifications related to diesel to reduce the percentage of sulfur from 500 parts per million (ppm) to 10 ppm or below, this is now in effect, and is required that all diesel fuel used in the country conform to this standard. This will greatly contribute to the reduction of emissions of sulfur dioxide from diesel engines and thereby improve the air quality. The UAE is the  Middle East’s first country to support this type of diesel.

 The UAE Ministry of Environment and Water has issued legislation and regulations to reduce air pollution. It has also developed systems to evaluate the environmental impact of projects and for the protection of air pollution, including standards and maximum permissible limits for air pollutants from various sources. In addition, the Cabinet of Ministers has taken decisions for regulating activities of special nature which affect air quality such as crusher and quarrying operations, cement and asbestos production, and will continue to do so to always ensure best practices to constantly improve our country’s air quality.


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