Interview: Yousef Al Mutawa, CEO, Sharjah Sustainable City

In what ways is Sharjah addressing the challenge of balancing economic development and sustainability in its urban development policies?

YOUSEF AL MUTAWA: Over the years Sharjah has transformed into a regional centre for arts, culture and industry. With a focus on both economic and social development, the emirate has cultivated an environment that is human-centric and infrastructure-driven. As urban development expands, environmentally friendly initiatives have been launched by both the local government and private sector to bolster sustainability efforts. The Sharjah Urban Planning Council (SUPC) reports a reduction in the emirate’s ecological footprint, achieved through proactive energy-efficiency policies and collaborative responses to the challenges of climate change by government institutions and the community.

The cornerstone of sustainable urban planning and development lies in smart city infrastructure, including mobility, energy, water, communications and IT platforms, which are integral to strategic development. Within this framework, the SUPC aims to empower citizens and businesses to help shape communities that enhance people’s lives. Striking a balance between new development, essential services, environmental protection and innovative change is a core focus.

What role do renewable energy and energy efficiency play in sustainable urban planning?

AL MUTAWA: In the global real estate sector, commercial and residential buildings account for more than one-third of energy use and related greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings contribute approximately 39% of global energy-related carbon emissions, comprising 28% from operational activities such as heating, cooling and power, and 11% from materials and construction processes. To mitigate this, it is imperative to unite key stakeholders in adopting sustainable construction and urban planning approaches, including the selection of building materials and lighting equipment, water resource management and landscaping. In the UAE, which became the first country in the region to commit to net zero by 2050, clean energy solutions are central to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The country aims to meet 50% of its energy needs through renewable resources by 2050, boasting some of the world’s largest and most cost-effective solar plants, including the Noor Abu Dhabi solar park, the Shams solar project in Abu Dhabi and the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai.

Where do you see opportunities to leverage innovative technologies for sustainable living?

AL MUTAWA: Sharjah stands out as a major leader for innovation and technology, which, in turn, enhances business prospects. The emirate has solidified its position as a global start-up centre, actively endorsing companies that provide innovative solutions for sustainable living. This is evidenced by its recognition as the top city for high-growth activation-phase ecosystems in the 2020 “Global Startup Ecosystem Report”.

The emirate is home to key facilities, such as the Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP), which is dedicated to developing and managing an ecosystem that fosters research and development while supporting enterprise activities and collaboration across industry, government and academia. In a similar vein, SRTIP’s Sharjah Open Innovation Lab (SoiLAB) elevates technical innovation and entrepreneurship to international standards. Functioning as a collaborative workspace for learning, experimentation and innovation, SoiLAB is accessible to students, artists, entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts.

To effectively leverage innovative technologies and design principles for promoting sustainable living in Sharjah, it is crucial to engage with all key stakeholders, including youth and women. By harnessing their potential, we can discover innovative and sustainable solutions to address the challenges the world faces.