The UAE: From Fossil Fuel Present To Zero Carbon Future
"I do not want to bring the Bedouin to civilization, but I want to bring civilization to the Bedouin." Sheikh Zayed
One cannot start an article on sustainability and the United Arab Emirates without including Sheikh Zayed – one of the primary founders and a very much-loved and respected ruler of the UAE, whose values were strongly based in science and education. One can only wonder at how these values are deeply embedded in the foundations of the sustainability in the UAE.
Despite being a country with one of the highest ecological footprints - 8.1 global hectares per person or 4.7 earths needed to sustain itself - the UAE is fast integrating the latest clean technologies and diverting their cash towards sustainability innovation with a key focus on preserving resources and diversifying their economy. Most important is the country’s quest to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, from a country rich in oil to becoming a leader in renewable energy.
This was my second visit to the UAE hosted by H.H Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan and I was offered a guided tour to the Masdar City based in Abu Dhabi, which is the Middle East’s largest exporter of renewable energy with an impressive investment of around US$2.7 billion instalments of 1 gigawatt (GW) capacity around the world in countries such as Oman, Jordan, Mauritania, Egypt, Morocco, the UK, Spain, Seychelles, and the Pacific Islands.
Being there felt like a child in an ‘experimental playground’. A playground where the academy, technology, science and innovation are synergised within the fusion of Sheikh Zayed’s values. A blend of high financial investments and transformative leadership are unified by the principle of “the fossil fuel economy of today and the clean energy economy of tomorrow - securing the long-term prosperity of the UAE”.
As walk through the shaded walkways of the Phase 1 Masdar City, admiring the desert dune shapes and curved buildings, I forget about the scorching 38°C temperature and the fact that I haven’t had a sip of water since last ‘Iftar’. When I express my admiration for these architectural beauties I’m informed that Masdar City’s buildings are carefully weaved, mimicking the ancient ‘colonnades’ in order to provide shaded walkways for pedestrians. When we reach the ‘happiness square’ I recognise the wind tower, a 45-metre high passive ventilation system designed to capture the desert's breezes and cool the air in Masdar's plazas by as much as 20°C - yet another simple version of an ancient Arabic cooling system.
I end up taking a lift in one of their ‘driverless’ cars and as I am informed of the new expansions of these autonomous cars and their magnetic lanes. I felt very privileged to be there. I stand in the midst of the science and technologies of the future, urban living with zero carbon footprint. My emotions overwhelm me further as I stand on the edge of the city admiring the 360° views of new building developments. A symphony of drilling, whirring and heavy machinery working non-stop under the haze of the desert’s sun.
To some, this may look like a chaotic utopic dream, but for me it was the very same place that I felt hopeful for our planet! Being there provided me with some of the answers that explain Sheikha Shamma’s passion for humankind, sustainability and the UAE. A social entrepreneur and a founder of initiatives such as ‘Beacon of Hope’ and ‘Wanna Read’, Sheikha Shamma shares the very same vision established by her great-grandfather and the UAE’s founding ruler, Sheikh Zayed. Her dedication is a reminder for me that, despite of our differences, we are unified by ‘estidama’ (sustainability) and our commitment to create better futures for generations to come.
Indira Kartallozi is committed to tackling social injustice in the world through sustainable development. As a director of Kaleidoscope Futures, she is inspired by her work on social enterprise, human rights and transformational leadership, which has taken her to Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Latin America.
 Ecological footprinting - is where researchers look at how much land, sea and other natural resources are used to produce what people consume
 Global Footprint Network (2015)