Abu Dhabi: Green ambitions

While Abu Dhabi is introducing a series of green initiatives, like other rapidly developing cities it faces challenges in reducing its carbon footprint over the short term.

For the municipality this means turning Abu Dhabi into a location rich in green areas that are increasingly nourished by recycled water. "Sustainability is the answer,"Abdul-Sattar al Mashhadani, a landscape expert at the Abu Dhabi Municipality (ADM) recently told local press.

According to ADM, the emirate could benefit from plans for 12 “pocket parks” (small parks easily accessible to the public), 120 playgrounds and 40% more greenery by 2014. The benefits to the city and its residents will include cleaner air, more family spaces, increased water recycling and lower costs over the long run. Of course, achieving this in an arid climate such as Abu Dhabi faces obstacles such as water scarcity and the dry climate.

Development on the ground, nevertheless, has already begun in earnest, with more than 70 projects being commissioned at an estimated cost of $1.5bn. A total of 60 playgrounds are in the final design stage, with another 32 under construction, while five of the 12 proposed “pocket parks” have already been completed. Other large-scale projects, such as the $5.3m Salam Street irrigation and landscaping works, are halfway to completion. In Al Bahya and Al Taweelah, 400 new palm trees will be planted and 66,000 sq metres of currently parched land will be irrigated and rehabilitated.

To achieve the landscaping objectives, the municipality has made water conservation and water recycling a top priority, calling for the construction of more reservoirs, pump stations and water treatment plants. Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi is playing its part by attempting to reduce per capita consumption from 590 litres per day in 2006 to 350 litres by 2012 through conservation and awareness campaigns. The Abu Dhabi government has also established a committee ('Permanent Committee for Water and Agriculture Resources') to uphold conservation of water resources, particularly in agriculture.

The committee will be responsible for drawing up policies, strategies and plans concerning the water and agriculture sector. Amongst its plans are promoting the use of native plants to adorn the capital's streets which require minimal irrigation. Methods for rationalising water consumption also include using underground irrigation systems where less water is lost due to evaporation. Overall, the committee plans to cut agricultural consumption from 23,500 cu metres per day in 2006 to 18,000 cu metres by 2012.

In construction, meanwhile, the emirate is set to introduce new building codes early next year. These, in conjunction with the Urban Planning Council’s Estidama initiative for sustainability, which includes a green building rating system, will help make the construction sector increasingly environmentally conscious. Over the long term the introduction of such standards is expected to bring cost savings through greater energy efficiency, durability and longevity of buildings.

Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority announced recently that it too is taking part in an extension of the Estidama scheme, and has begun piloting its new green hotel guidelines. The programme, aimed at making tourism greener, will see new hotels being rated on their environmental footprint.

Meanwhile, Adnoc Distribution is currently installing and expanding infrastructure allowing vehicles to run on compressed natural gas (CNG). “Initiatives such as the CNG conversion project will definitely help to improve Abu Dhabi’s status of being environmentally friendly,” Abdulla Salem Al Dhaheri, general manager of Adnoc Distribution, told OBG. “This is a strategic project and is very much supported by the government”.

The steps that Abu Dhabi, along with the wider UAE, is making in terms of green investment, not least through its Masdar Initiative, a multibillion-dollar, multi-faceted investment in alternative energy established in 2006, are undeniably considerable. However – and perhaps unsurprisingly for a young, rapidly developing country – the authorities are aware that challenges lay ahead.

UK-based risk analyst Maplecroft recently ranked the UAE as the top polluter in terms of CO₂ emissions from energy use in its “CO₂ Emissions from Energy Use Index”, which rated 183 countries on their annual CO₂ emissions. It should be noted, however, the most recent International Energy Agency report, published at the end of 2008, ranked the UAE a more respectable 30 of 142 on the list of worst polluters.

Against this backdrop, Emirati policymakers are undoubtedly looking toward the end of the decade when they can expect to slash Abu Dhabi’s, as well as the wider UAE’s, carbon footprint with the help of nuclear and solar power, thereby reducing dependency on fossil fuels. Moreover, the capital’s green credentials will be boosted by its commitment to generate 7% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. While the slew of green initiatives being introduced presently may not be a panacea they are testimony that the government is serious about the environment.

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