On November 2nd 2004, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, passed away. He was not merely a national leader, but a man who was widely respected locally and the world over.
In a journey he had begun over forty years ago, Sheikh Zayed infused in the United Arab Emirates a spirit of responsibility, of camaraderie and of collaboration.
Sheikh Zayed’s vision was driven by a passionate belief in social, economic and environmental sustainability.
Armed with the valuable lessons of the past, he believed that it is important to pursue development that meets the needs of present and future generations.
To that end, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan laid out a vision that would ensure the sustainable development of the UAE.
He placed great emphasis on education and empowerment, on the welfare of the less fortunate in the UAE and around the world and he worked tirelessly to protect the heritage of the land we live in and on protecting our environment and our natural resources.
In his lifetime, Sheikh Zayed created official institutions such as the Federal Environment Agency and Abu Dhabi's Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency. While he acknowledged the responsibility that government must assume in conserving the natural environment, he also called upon individuals to play a role in ensuring the region developed sustainably.
In 1995, WWF presented it's highest conservation award, the Golden Panda, to Sheikh Zayed, marking the first time in the awards history that it had been bestowed on a head of state.
In a speech he delivered to mark the UAE's first Environment Day in February 1998, Sheikh Zayed articulated his beliefs:
"We cherish our environment because it is an integral part of our country, our history and our heritage. On land and in the sea, our forefathers lived and survived in this environment. They were able to do so only because they recognised the need to conserve it, to take from it only what they needed to live, and to preserve it for succeeding generations.
With God's will, we shall continue to work to protect our environment and our wildlife, as did our forefathers before us. It is a duty, and, if we fail, our children, rightly, will reproach us for squandering an essential part of their inheritance, and of our heritage".
Sheikh Zayed founded a program to protect the country's wildlife and created a sanctuary for endangered species such as the Arabian Oryx and the sand gazelle. As a result of this initiative, the symbol of Abu Dhabi, the Dorcas Gazelle, is a protected species whose numbers are today increasing. Sheikh Zayed also reintroduced traditional methods of desert agriculture, ensuring that Abu Dhabi will be greener and more fertile.
The Zayed Future Energy Prize is one way in which Abu Dhabi has chosen to honour and continue Sheikh Zayed's legacy of environmental stewardship.
Source: His Highness Sheikh Zayed: A Special Tribute, Embassy of the United Arab Emirates.