As owner and CEO of CenCorp, a conglomerate of property-related businesses, Ryan Mahoney (Dubai, UAE) has in-depth experience of the MENA real estate sector. This article explores Dubai’s proposed transformation from a city with one of the largest ecological footprints globally, to one with the smallest by 2050.
Rising up from the scorched sands of Arabia over the course of just three decades, Dubai is a concrete, steel, and glass oasis famed for its opulence. Its Mall of Emirates hosts countless designer boutiques, including fashion powerhouses like Alexander McQueen, Prada, and Dior. Considering the city’s humble beginnings, Dubai’s transformation is nothing short of phenomenal.
For centuries, Dubai was nothing more than a small fishing village and trading port. Then came the discovery of oil . Prospectors flooded the region in the 1950s, changing the Emirate’s economic fortune and sparking a real estate boom.
Dubai transformed into a world-leading city, boasting the densest collection of skyscrapers and tallest buildings on Earth, as well as the world’s third-busiest airport. Today, the city is home to the only indoor ski park in the Middle East. When asked to picture a sustainable city, few people would think of Dubai, yet that is precisely what its government is trying to achieve.
During the boom years, Dubai became a poster child for excess. Indoor skiing was just one example. In 2006, the WWF cited the United Arab Emirates has having the largest ecological footprint, per capita, of any country in the world. Most conspicuous among the seven Emirates was Dubai.
In the subsequent decade, the city’s population doubled to over 2.8 million, the number of cars on its roads doubling too. Yet at the same time, something else started happening too. Dubai started to change.
In Dubai, parks come at a premium. Nevertheless, the city is expanding its greenspaces. Currently under construction, DubaiLand features walking, running, and cycling paths, incorporating 55 playgrounds in total.
Today, many of the city’s inhabitants have embraced public transport. Driverless metro trains run the length of the city, carrying as many people as those sitting in their cars on the clogged 12-lane Sheikh Zayed Road.
A new housing development has opened on the southern outskirts of Dubai. Sustainable City recycles all of its water and waste, producing more energy than it consumes. In the desert, a giant solar energy plant was recently constructed, which will soon be producing some of the cheapest, cleanest electricity on Earth. By 2030, all buildings in Dubai will feature solar panels on their roofs.
Tanzeed Ala is Climate Director for the Emirates Wildlife Society, a local partner organization of the WWF. Speaking with National Geographic, he indicated that Dubai’s leadership has recognized that economic growth is not sustainable without taking action on emissions.
His Highness, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai’s hereditary Emir, came to power in 2006. He decreed that the city will derive 75% of its energy from sustainable sources by 2050 as part of his vision for the city to have the smallest carbon footprint in the world. As conservationists point out, if this is achievable in Dubai, it can be accomplished anywhere.
With a 90% expat population and attracting more than 15 million international visitors each year, this opulent metropolis has become synonymous with luxury and extravagance. As a high-income emerging market, the United Arab Emirates is still grappling with the challenges presented by urbanization and rapid expansion. Nevertheless, the leadership of this economic powerhouse recognizes the imperative of “going green”. With planned investments of circa $163 billion, Dubai’s energy revolution could provide roadmap to sustainability that could be replicated all over the world.