US$22 billion eco-project opened in Abu Dhabi

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has one of the largest per capita carbon footprints in the world, opened a US$22 billion eco-city project in Abu Dhabi in February 2008.

The project, known as Masdar City, will create the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city, officials say.

“It is a noble project to integrate all the components of a futuristic and eco-friendly city. It hopes to set the trend in property development, renewable energy, sustainable habitat and climate change mitigation all in one project. It is setting the bar high for other initiatives to follow and it will set a benchmark in the fight against further global warming,” Habiba al-Marahi, chairperson of Emirates Environmental Group (EEG), a local non-governmental organisation, told IRIN.

The UAE is ranked 43rd by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change but its per capita emissions are among the highest in the world.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF - also known as the World-Wide Fund for Nature) 2006 report said the average person in the UAE puts greater demand on the global ecosystem than in any other country, because of the huge requirement for air-conditioning, the number of vehicles on the road, energy intensive desalination plants, and rapid development. The USA came second.

Masdar City is a One Planet Living™ project - a global initiative launched by WWF and environmental consultancy BioRegional. “For projects to achieve the standard, they must have a sustainability action plan that addresses the 10 principles of sustainability as defined by One Planet Living, and must meet specific targets for each of those principles,” Eduardo Gonçalves, global communications coordinator for One Planet Living at WWF International told IRIN. The 10 principles include zero carbon, zero waste, sustainable transport, sustainable food and water, and use of local and sustainable materials.

Model for other countries?

According to Masdar City officials, the project will use photovoltaic panels to generate electricity. Cooling will be provided via concentrated solar power, while water will be made available through a solar-powered desalination plant. Landscaping within the city and crops grown outside the city will be irrigated with grey (recycled household) water and treated waste water.

Photo: Foster + Partners
Masdar City will use photovoltaic panels to generate electricity. Cooling will be provided via concentrated solar power, while water will be made available through a solar-powered desalination plant

“Every One Planet Living [project] is unique and faces different challenges because of soil, precipitation, climate, geology and existing regulations. For example, in this project it may be how to keep people cool without consuming huge amounts of energy, or feeding people sustainably without having to resort to large amounts of imports, Gonçalves said.

When completed, the project will serve as a model for other countries and will prove that the UAE can achieve high levels of economic development without compromising natural resources, according to Habib al-Habr, director of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) regional office for West Asia.

“There are many cities in the world which have designated a city or part of a city as zero-emission or carbon-free zones, like London. Several cities also adopted the concept of zero-waste. But the most important thing is to apply such concepts on a larger scale and put policies and measures in place to make existing cities more sustainable,” he said.

Environment specialists say Masdar City will face some challenges. “The biggest challenge will be to source the expertise required to help Masdar meet all its objectives and in so doing create the market for high quality and measurably effective green developments,” said Razan al-Mubarak, managing director of Emirates Wildlife Society - World Wide Fund for Nature (EWS-WWF).