No giant leaps, but there are small steps for sustainability in the UAE

Masdar Incubator Building, Foster & Partners, clean tech, free economic zone, green design, Masdar City, Abu Dhabi

With the recent news that Dubai and Abu Dhabi ranked number one and two respectively within the Middle East on the Arcadis 2016 Sustainable Cities Index, it’s worth noting that they are still many years away from other places in the world. On a global scale, Dubai reached 52nd place and Abu Dhabi not far behind at 58th spot. Any entry into the top 100 is of course a reason for celebration, yet there is undoubtedly still room for improvement, something that Ben Khan, Client Development Director for Arcadis Middle East, echoed in a statement.

“Energy consumption and carbon emissions do remain high in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, largely due to the climate, volume of development, and the reliance on traditional fossil fuels. This is an area that both cities are actively looking to address,” said Khan.

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Dubai especially is regularly featured on websites which discuss rapid urbanization and sustainable development, with its incredible structures and high-rise buildings, but the city is also becoming known as a place to have greener dreams. In 2020, Dubai are going to host the renowned World Expo, and will undeniably be keen to present their future ideas and technology surrounding sustainability.

Other than a commitment to produce 5% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, the city has also instituted compulsory green rules when constructing a new building (such as bike storage, solar reflective materials, and the inclusion of native plants). All great steps without question, yet one has to wonder how effective moves like this will improve sustainability in the UAE as a whole, especially with what has happened to the region’s proposed savior: Masdar City.

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A project that has been in development for just over 10 years, Masdar City aimed to be the world’s first zero-carbon city and a true testament to sustainability. However, cracks in the plan started to appear as far back as 2010, and now it appears that the original concept is rapidly disappearing. “We are not going to try to shoehorn renewable energy into the city just to justify a definition created within a boundary,” Chris Wan, the design manager for Masdar City, recently told The Guardian. “As of today, it’s not a net zero future. It’s about 50%.”

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Hearing that Masdar City – once a place filled with so much hope and expectation for a completely environmentally-friendly ethos – is now backtracking on its promises, will be hard to stomach for the UAE. This is not just because $18 billion has been poured into the city’s construction, but also because 2016 was the year that Masdar City was to be thronging with life, yet now 2030 has been stated as a rough completion date. 50,000 people were estimated to live in the city, yet the real number is actually closer to under 500 (mostly students and staff of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology).

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Culture activities are lacking in the new “sustainable” Middle East vision where old is replaced by shining new. While backgammon is a common past-time, gambling is not encouraged. People turn to online casinos like casinoaus instead.

However, knowing that the UAE is such a competitive area (e.g. a new tower is underway in Dubai to beat the current tallest, Burj Khalifa), it seems plausible that this ambitious nature could one day manifest itself into who can build the most sustainable building, the most environmentally-friendly park, the most energy-efficient transport system, etc. Don’t be surprised to perhaps see Dubai or Abu Dhabi top the list for the 2016 Sustainable Cities Index. If it happens, this will be a win-win for everyone.

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