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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Green Sheikh of the UAE Abdul Aziz Al Nuaimi

by Philip Weiss

Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Ali Al Nuaimi
Abul Aziz Al Nuami praying during a trip to Antartica in 2010.

Known throughout the UAE as the ‘Green Sheikh’, Abdul Aziz Al Nuami, has made it his mission to make the country environmentally aware

There are few countries around the world which have modernised as fast as the UAE has in the last 40 years. And one positive result of this fast-tracked modernisation is an increased awareness of environmental issues.

It may still have far to go in this respect, but it’s clear the UAE has begun to prioritise the environment and one man in particular has made it his personal mission to make sure this happens.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Ali Al Nuaimi is known as the ‘Green Sheikh’. A member of the Ajman royal family, he’s the nephew of Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid al-Nuaimi, the Ruler of Ajman and a member of the Supreme Council of the United Arab Emirates. But he’s also the official environmental adviser to the Ajman Government.

On meeting the 45-year-old, it’s hard not to be struck by his ice-breaking approach. He immediately extends a strong hand and flashes a disarmingly friendly smile.

It’s hard not to like him. But while his amiable personality gets him noticed, it’s the work he carries out in pushing environmental issues that has earned him respect. In recent years he’s become more and more vocal about the need for environmental policies to be enacted by both the government and private companies in the UAE. What’s more, he aims to serve as an example by following an environmentally conscious lifestyle himself.

His philosophy, he says, is routed in the teachings of Islam, which state that man on Earth has been given a responsibility for the environment by Allah, and that he will therefore be accountable for his actions on his death.

“Everything I do, I do from a sense of responsibility first and foremost as a human being,” explains Sheikh Al Nuaimi, adding that he tries to motivate others to do the same.

“In my role as ‘The Green Sheikh’ I aim to move people to action. Regardless of their age, nationality or religion – I want to see everyone, including members of the government and the private sector, unite to protect our resources and preserve our beautiful planet for future generations.”

In particular he hopes to inspire the younger generation: “I’m very conscious of the fact that I’m something of a role model for young people in the region,” he says. “So any of the projects in which I’ve been involved, in which [the young people] have been motivated to take positive action, have been particularly important for me.”

The sheikh has a formidable list of academic qualifications, including a doctorate from Griffith University in Australia; bachelor degrees in petroleum and chemical engineering; and several diplomas in environmental studies and related topics.

In recent years he has put his studies to good use, devoting himself to advocating a more environmentally friendly approach to development in the UAE. He regularly makes TV and radio appearances and is involved with dozens of environmental groups both here and abroad.

“During my time as Chairman of the ‘Environment Friends Society of the UAE’ for example, I’ve been very fortunate to have witnessed the beginning of some great projects,” he says. “The most memorable for me, were the ones which brought people together; uniting public authorities, the private sector, and civil society in support of environmental issues.”

In fact a number of environmental milestones have already been achieved in the UAE and he has played a part in highlighting many of them. One such achievement is the development of the Masdar project – a planned city in Abu Dhabi which relies solely on energy and renewable energy sources, with a sustainable zero-carbon, zerowaste ecology. Another example is the reduction in the use of plastic bags here; as well as arrangements for recycling of tin cans. However a number of challenges in conservation still remain.

Waste management for example is still a big problem. “Effective waste management has to be a priority for both the government and the private sector. The recycling facilities [here] need to be improved, as do the sewage treatment systems,” says the sheikh.

Light pollution is another issue in this part of the world. “I also feel very passionately about the excessive use of lights in our cities,” he says. “Our region has a rich and established heritage of astronomy, yet in many Middle Eastern cities the light pollution is so severe that the stars can no longer be seen. It’s really a terrible shame.”

The sheikh points out too that many of the environmental problems here are simply the result of the pace at which the UAE has developed. “We’ve experienced rapid growth in recent times and our waste management infrastructure needs to catch up,” he says.

And while many simply pay lip service to environmental issues, the Sheikh believes in a hands-on approach. In 2010, he joined the explorer Sir Robert Swan on a trip to the South Pole entitled ‘2041. org’ to highlight the need for continued protection of the Antarctic Treaty.

Of course not all the people are in a position to embark on such a challenging journey, but he emphasises that everyone around the world can do their own little bit to limit environmental damage.

“Everyone needs to reduce their carbon footprint,” he explains, adding: “It’s very easy. Start by examining your daily life. Look at how much money you spend; and how much energy you use on average; and see how much you can cut back on both.

“You can change your behaviour. You will not die from switching off the lights for one hour during ‘Earth Hour’ for example, or from not using your car for one day. In fact, it will lead to a healthier, happier and more productive life, which will ultimately benefit the environment.”

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