His Highness Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Ali Al Nuaimi, a member of the royal family of Ajman, one of the seven United Arab Emirates, advises the public, private and academic sectors on environmental issues. CleanEnergy Project spoke with Sheikh Abdul Aziz – also known as “The Green Sheikh” about his commitment to sustainability and climate protection.*
Who gave you the name “Green Sheikh” and what does it stand for?
I have been devoted to environmental causes since 1988 – fostering education, raising awareness, inspiring public participation and engaging the private sector. As I embraced sustainability as my personal cause, people began to refer to me as the “Green Sheikh”. But “green” is also a reference to some of my personal values, i.e. G.R.E.E.N stands for G = Global, because we live in a global community; R = Rethink, because we need to rethink our interactions with each other, and with natural resources; E = Enlightenment, because we need “light house” guidance and a path to follow; the other E = Ethics, because we need strong morals and values; and N = Network, because we are most productive when we live, work and enjoy our life together.
You were active in the oil and petrochemical industry in the past. When and why did you decide to shift your focus towards environmental protection?
For me, engaging with environmental issues was a personal journey that started after 1992. I am a trained chemical and petroleum engineer and for three years I worked in the oil and petrochemical industry; then in natural gas liquefaction plants. I smelled and breathed sulfur dioxide from the contaminated air. I literally imbibed low lethal doses of NOx, COx and SOx and more; I was contaminated with complex hazardous waste. My entire body reacted to this constant exposure of toxic chemicals. My lungs were filled with toxic waste and irritated; my breathing became labored. I saw people die from exposure to that toxic environment. That experience transformed me. I decided to share what I have learned with other people and the society as a whole so we could begin to save the environment. It was not an easy task – there was not a lot of support for my message, yet I have been persisting because I felt it was important to share it with the world.
Could you please describe your current activities focusing on environmental protection and enlightenment?
I am deeply committed to sustainability. In my view, sustainable living is essential to our survival as people and the planet. It is also consistent with my Faith, which inspires me daily to protect the Earth and help others to see it the way I do. We are all responsible for the environment. Protecting is not just about removing harmful things from the environment. It begins with cleaning our hearts and cleaning our minds. We must really think about the consequences of what we are doing. Then start with small steps and small incremental changes. As a result of focusing on this topic for so many years, I have come to one major realization: the survival of our planet and of us as people depends on inspiring the younger generation to get involved in addressing these major issues today. Young people are powerful; they do not know the word impossible. They can push the envelope on all major issues we face today, and be brave and strong. I am committed to inspiring global youth leadership.
How have your surroundings responded to your “green” initiatives?
In a positive and supporting way. My initiatives are global, and cross cultural, and I have partnered with the head of a global NGO to inspire youth leadership and engagement. Together we will reach out to individual leaders in the GCC region and around the world to build cross-cultural bridges as well as to support collaboration for custodianship of the Earth. We will announce details of the collaboration soon.
Do you think luxury and sustainability can co-exist well or rather contradictone another?
Sustainability is not a privilege for the wealthy. Most indigenous people lived and continue to live a sustainable lifestyle. We need to unlearn our wasteful behaviors associated with consumption and waste, and inspire a simpler lifestyle for all. Waste comes with increased consumption, which is often associated with more wealth. It is essential that we work on aligning our social values with the needs of the planet. The richest person is not who has the most but who needs the least.
What are the main environmental challenges in the UAE? And how canthey be addressed?
The UAE is a country of young people, led by wise leadership. Our greatest challenge is also the source of our economic success: the easy availability of fossil fuel, the abundance of resources, and almost tax free opportunities. We work to raise awareness of clean and renewable energy, such as solar energy and just recently commissioned “Shams One”, generating 100 MW and more – in order to instill a sense of environmental responsibility and respect for sustainability in the younger generation.
What can the European Union learn from the UAE regarding CleanTech and sustainability?
That even a fossil fuel rich country can be committed to sustainable practices, and can be a global visionary for the future. All that it takes is wise leadership, belief and courage to bring and embrace the best sustainable practices for its people and country.
And what can the UAE learn from the European Community in these specificareas?
The European Community has a very engaged citizenship, and great models for citizen participation. We are studying these models and intend to bring some of them home. Encouraging local innovation of sustainability from culture and heritage and turning compassion into action is our goal.
Thank you very much for the interview!
Corinna Lang und Ralf Hartmann
*first published in LIFESTYLE clean energy 2013-1