‘UAE is establishing new sustainability model’
The UAE is establishing a new model of sustainability, investing heavily in advanced science and technology, and equipping national talents with the necessary skills to ensure optimal use of available resources, asserted Ministers from the UAE Government at a special ministerial session during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2019.
Sustainability is the way for the UAE to achieve its Centennial goals, the Ministers noted at the session, titled ‘How Investment in Science Drives the UAE’s Long-Term Sustainable Development’, which brought together Dr. Ahmad bin Abdullah Humaid Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills and Chairman of the UAE Space Agency; Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, and Mariam Hareb Almheiri, Minister of State for Food Security.
Al Falasi began his address asserting that sustainability is closely linked to technological advancement and human resources development, noting that new technology, scientific discoveries and research outputs will provide innovative solutions to achieve sustainable development, and pointing out that the UAE’s investments in space reflect the leadership’s vision and conviction that the future of sustainability lies in enhancing capabilities and leadership in the space sector.
“The challenges we must overcome in space particularly those that come with building a colony on Mars mimic the challenges we face here in the UAE, such as water scarcity, food security, and solar power,” he explained. “That is what makes sustainability in space, where resources are incredibly scarce, so important. Any progress we make in finding solutions for sustainability in space will undoubtedly be applicable here in the UAE.”
“The UAE’s ambition to have a permanent settlement on Mars by 2117 has created a long-term objective that will encourage generations of Emiratis to take up science disciplines, in the process inculcating a culture of advanced knowledge, innovation and learning that will drive the UAE’s sustainable development,” Al Falasi continued, noting that investing in the space sector, especially space exploration programmes, has positive implications for the educational system, as it increases school students’ passion for STEM disciplines, as well as inspiring higher education students to pursue academic achievement with postgraduate studies.
For her part, Al Amiri said that the UAE has long been a champion of economic diversification in a region so dependent on oil and gas. “This fact alone drives home the idea that sustainability is not a luxury; it is a necessary tool to liberate our economy from oil dependency, which the Emirates has by and large succeeded in doing.”
“Sustainability is not an added feature or an option; it should be at the core of any development plans and projects. And our leaders in the UAE have always realised and embraced this fact, directing investments towards an integrated system of advanced science to serve sustainability objectives and long-term plans, which, in turn, enables the UAE to achieve rapid growth at a sustained pace despite limited natural resources,” she added, explaining that the UAE is not going to space for the sake of going to space; “We are using this mission and project to conduct research that would help address the challenges we are facing here. Al Amiri stressed that the areas that have been selected to conduct research in mirror the difficulties that face the UAE and countries with similar arid climates.”
The Minister of State for Advanced Sciences went on to say, “The UAE Advanced Science Agenda 2031 focuses on such vital sectors as sustainable energy, water and food security, health and resource sustainability, and others. Plans and projects in each of these sectors have already begun to materialise: If we look at health, for example, the UAE is on the verge of popularising personalised medicine that is based on each patient’s DNA. This follows extensive and successful efforts to map out the national genome.”
On the same note, Almheiri added, “Sustainability is the core driver of many fields and sectors that directly relate to our very own existence; it is linked with every aspect of our lives. Food security and sustainability are inextricably linked. Agriculture is the world’s thirstiest industry, accounting for approximately 72 percent of total freshwater consumption. With the UAE having one of the world’s most arid climates, it is imperative that we establish new and innovative ways to produce food that minimises the use of water. It is increasingly clear that technology has a huge role to play in achieving this.”
Almheiri noted that the UAE is investing agricultural technology - also known as ‘AgTech’ - which has been identified as one of the main solutions to boosting food production in the country and reduce its dependency on imports.
“Biotechnology is one specific area we are looking at as part of the UAE’s AgTech sector,” she concluded. “Developed in collaboration with academics and experts from the Government and private sectors, the strategy sees us aiming to increase food yield through techniques that include seed enhancement, smart water-harvesting, closed system agriculture and more.”