United Arab Emirates

Sustainable Travel in United Arab Emirates

Known for oil, wealth and unlimited shopping, United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a reputation as an ultra-luxurious destination. Seven emirates – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Qaiwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah – joined together in 1971 to form a constitutional federation. The small federation occupies land, mostly desert, at the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Qatar lies to the west with Saudi Arabia to the south and west, and Oman to the north and east. The emirates’ oil reserves are the seventh largest in the world and its natural gas reserves are 17th in the world. But the UAE has a softer side beyond the hard commercialism, and it can be found in the heart of the Bedouin, or in ancient neighborhoods of Dubai. In 1998, UNESCO named Sharjah, capital of Sharjah Emirate, the “Cultural Capital of the Arab World” Sharjah for its ability to create a cultural identity that harmonizes between its Islamic roots and historical heritage, and between contemporaneity and openness to the many humanitarian cultures. Oases grow date palms, acacia and eucalyptus trees. In the desert, the flora is sparse and consists of grasses and thorn bushes. Marine species found in the warm waters of the Persian Gulf include mackerel, perch, tuna, sharks and whales.

What are they doing right?

Urban development in the UAE, with its dynamic modern cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, is very resource intensive, requiring prolific amounts of energy and water to service both its inhabitants and its visitors. So, it is no surprise that much of the effort in sustainability in the UAE is focused on clean energy and improving environmentally friendly practices. Projects like Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, with a goal to build the world’s first carbon neutral, zero-waste city, are an example of these efforts. With the launch of the Dubai Sustainable Tourism Initiative in 2016, the Emirates has committed to improving their efforts to ensure that tourism enterprises are engaged in reducing their carbon footprint, in line with the broader goals of promoting the development and implementation of green, renewable and clean energy projects across the UAE. Sustainable tourism best practice models, such as the Al Maha Desert Conservation Resort, serve as an important example for how tourism in the UAE can support the restoration of fragile desert ecosystems and rare wildlife.

The Elephant Ranking

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Destination stewardship planning is underway at the national level with multiple stakeholders, including government, NGOs, private sector and communities, to increase understanding and awareness of sustainable tourism best practices.

The UAE aims to preserve native plant species and use them sustainably. In 2014, the UAE's Ministry of Climate Change and Environment completed the first phase of its date palm tree identification through DNA profiling through a collaboration with the UAE University. The project supports efforts to preserve, identify and classify all genetic assets of date palm trees in the country to aid conservation and improve palm tree planting and date production. Many indigenous animals were on the edge of extinction from intensive hunting until a conservation program on Bani Yas Island was begun in the 1970s, which saved several species including the Arabian Oryx, Arabian camel and leopard. Coastal conversation programs work to protect nesting turtle sites and other marine species.

Why the Elephant Ranking?