Driving Forces of Environmental Change

Drivers are natural or human influences that directly or indirectly cause change in an ecosystem.


A direct driver unequivocally influences ecosystem processes. These include climate change, nutrient pollution, land conversion, over-exploitation and invasive species and diseases. An indirect driver operates more diffusely by altering one or more direct drivers. They include demographic, economic, socio-political, scientific and technological, and cultural and religious factors. Understanding the factors that cause environmental change provides vital information for policy making. The most important leverage points for intervention in the interactions between society and environment may not be the pressures themselves but the drivers, as they are the root causes of environmental change. This chapter focuses on those drivers common to several of the environmental themes in this report. Typically, these are anthropogenic, induced by humans through consumption and production activities. They are reviewed together here to avoid repetition in subsequent chapters. This chapter does not discuss the mechanisms by which drivers interact with specific ecosystems, altering their ability to deliver services. Where relevant, this will be covered in each individual chapter of the report.

Key Messages

Increasing demand for natural resources (air, water, soil, fuels, minerals and biodiversity) and increasing pollution (emissions, effluents and waste) create pressure on the environment.

Common drivers for these pressures include population growth, economic development, lifestyle and choice of technology.

Abu Dhabi Emirate has achieved notable success in its demographic and economic development.

However, with the emirate’s average resident consuming three times the world average, if the rest of the world followed suit, 4.5 planets would be required to support the demand.

Decoupling population and economic growth from their environmental impact is a priority for Abu Dhabi Emirate.

The Government aims to achieve this by pioneering the efficient use of resources, particularly water and energy, through the adoption of more sustainable lifestyles and cleaner technologies, fostered by whole-of-government environmental policies.

Demographic Drivers

Demographic drivers include population size and its rate of change over time. This is determined by factors including: fertility, mortality and net migration rates; age and gender structure; spatial distribution; and level of education attainment.

Economic Growth

Economic growth is the result of higher production and consumption levels and is an important driving force behind the depletion of natural resources and the generation of pollution. A widely-used indicator of economic growth is Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is an estimate of the value of all final goods and services produced and traded for money in an economy within a given period.

Socio-political, Cultural and Religious Drivers

Socio-political drivers encompass the forces that influence decision-making. They include public participation in decision-making, the role of the state relative to the private sector and levels of education and knowledge. Cultural drivers include the values, beliefs and norms that a group of people share. These condition their perceptions of the world, influence what they consider important and may inspire courses of action that are appropriate or inappropriate.

Scientific and Technological Drivers

The development, diffusion and adoption of scientific knowledge and technologies can have a profound impact on the environment and human wellbeing. The rapid growth of environmental research in the UAE has led to a marked improvement in the quality and availability of environmental data for the emirates. For example, half of all coral reef research ever published in the Gulf region has taken place over the past decade, and the UAE is ranked first for the number of research articles published in comparison with all other Gulf countries.

Public Policy Drivers

Domestic policy can have a serious effect on the environment. Population growth can be substantially changed by political decisions affecting fertility, migration flows or urban-rural distribution. Consumption rates can be influenced by sectorspecific subsidies on agriculture, electricity and water or fossil fuels. The speed of scientific research and technological change can be affected through the setting of research priorities and changing levels of funding. If (as indicated by the Ecological Footprint Initiative) more than 80 % of the UAE environmental footprint is carbon, public policy needs to focus on reducing the amount of energy required for activities such as cooling, the desalination of seawater for water supplies, and for mobility. This is to decouple population and economic growth from their environmental impacts.

Abu Dhabi State Of Environment Report

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