Shaping a response: H E Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri

12th September 2022


H E Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri talks to Chris Seekings about the impacts of climate change in the UAE, and why it's important for women to play a key role when designing climate policies

Like most countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, the UAE is facing significant en-vironmental challenges as it looks to adapt to the extreme heat levels brought by climate change.

As the country’s first woman to hold the position of Minister of Climate Change and Environ-ment, H E Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri is ensuring that a female voice is heard at the highest levels of politics. She was previously Minister of State for Food and Water Security, where her responsibilities included monitoring national food stocks and water supplies, chan-nelling investments in food and water technology innovation, and building international part-nerships.

Here, she outlines the specific environmental challenges facing her country, and why it is so important for women to play a central role in designing climate policies and driving change.

What are the key areas of focus for adaptation to climate change in the UAE?

As part of our National Climate Change Adaptation Program, we have assessed climate change-related risks across four vital sectors – energy, infrastructure, health and the environment – and are currently preparing sectoral adaptation action plans.

Rising sea levels are among the major threats posed to our country by climate change. Given that the UAE has nearly 1,300km of coastline, and approximately 85% of the population and more than 90% of the infrastructure is in low-lying coastal areas, any sea level rise presents a considerable risk. To address the challenge, we have taken multiple measures, such as raising buildings in coastal areas 1.2m–1.4m above sea level and building wave breakers.

To cope with higher temperatures, we have implemented the midday break rule, mandating that outdoor labourers stop working between 12:30pm and 3pm to avoid heat-related illnesses. Furthermore, the National Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Management Authority works to ensure the country’s readiness for climate change-induced extreme weather events, such as storms and floods.

Could the UAE face an economic crisis due to its dependence on fossil fuels and the worldwide shift to renewable energy?

On the contrary – the UAE views the renewable energy transition as a significant economic opportunity and is spearheading the deployment of clean energy solutions on the domestic, as well as international, front.

The UAE Energy Strategy targets a 50% share of clean power, including solar and nuclear, in the country’s energy mix by 2050. To date, we have invested more than US$40bn into clean energy projects locally. As a result, our country is home to three of the largest-capacity and lowest-cost solar plants in the world and our clean energy capacity is set to reach 14GW by 2030. In addition, we have repeatedly broken the world record for the lowest solar power generation cost, which currently stands at US¢1.35/kWh.

The UAE has also long been committed to helping advance the deployment of renewables across the globe in line with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. We have invested around US$16.8bn into renewable energy projects across 70 countries and are also a major donor, having allocated close to US$1bn in grants and soft loans for renewables ventures. Furthermore, we have provided technical expertise and project assistance through Masdar, the UAE’s flagship energy company. And this year, we have pledged to invest an additional US$50bn into clean energy ventures at home and abroad over the next decade.

The UAE’s clean energy transition is part of its ongoing economic diversification drive, which aims to increase the contribution of non-oil sectors to the country’s GDP. In 2021, non-oil sectors accounted for 72.3% of total GDP, up from 67.3% in 2012, showing steady growth.

With women disproportionately impacted by climate change, how important is it that female voices are heard in the decision-making process when it comes to developing climate policies?

Inclusion and diversity are critical for strong climate action. Women and girls are usually the first to bear the brunt of climate change’s environmental, economic and social fallout. Sadly, women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die during a disaster.

Women also make up around 50% of agricultural workers in developing countries. As climate change increases the risk of droughts, which can destroy crops, women – already in a vulnerable position – will become poorer and have less to eat. So it is key that women help shape the response to climate change, as they bring a unique perspective and valuable skills to the table.

Women are already actively participating in climate action and increasingly taking leadership roles. For 12 years, until August 2022, the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was led by Christiana Figueres, architect of the milestone Paris Agreement, and Patricia Espinosa, who made great strides in promoting multilateralism as a tool for driving sustainable development across the globe. These women are a true inspiration, and their work has been pivotal to climate action.

It’s a great source of pride for me personally to be the first woman to hold the position of Minister of Climate Change and Environment of the UAE, and to lead the country’s drive to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

What is female representation like among positions of authority in the UAE, and how can this be improved?

The UAE has nine female ministers and its parliament has 50% female representation, mandated by a presidential directive. UAE women also hold several leadership roles in the environmental arena. Last year, H E Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak was elected president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, becoming only the second woman to head the organisation in its 72-year history, and its first president from West Asia. The election was a testament to her achievements as managing director of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, which she also founded. Meanwhile, H E Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, secretary general of EAD, was the first Emirati woman to earn a doctorate in wildlife conservation and protection.

At the helm of Emirates Nature-WWF is another woman, director general Laila Mostafa Abdullatif, who was instrumental in launching the Environment Endowment Fund that offers opportunities for the private sector to support environmental programs. And H E Hana Saif Al Suwaidi, chairperson of the Environment and Protected Areas Authority in Sharjah, has made a significant contribution to the expansion of protected areas in the UAE and the development of ecotourism in the country.

The continued success of women in our country is an outcome of our leadership’s pioneering approach to empowering women and building their capabilities. It also testifies to the potential of our women, their desire to develop themselves, and their dedication to the pursuit of excellence. It fills me with pride when I look at how far our women have come and what they have accomplished in translating our nation’s aspirations into reality.

Our job as government is to create an environment that unlocks women’s potential through education, training and re-skilling. I am confident that, in this kind of environment, women can become changemakers, drive climate action and build a sustainable future for our children.

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