How many cities are there in Dubai

Dubai 2050: From a desert state to the most sustainable city in the world?

After its rapid rise from a modest fishing village to an ultra-modern metropolis, Dubai is a city of superlatives: It houses the tallest building in the world, the largest shopping center, the largest picture frame and the most comprehensive indoor ski center.

"If building a green and sustainable oasis in the middle of the desert in Dubai is possible, then it is undoubtedly possible anywhere."

The oil boom since the 1950s triggered rapid economic growth in Dubai. It also brought the shiny skyscrapers and multinational corporations with it, while attracting the talent to keep the city moving forward. The metropolis, nicknamed “Manhattan of the Middle East”, has become a synonym for extravagance, shopping and luxury for many. Dubai's magnificent charm attracts over 15 million international visitors every year.

However, the glitz and glamor of this melting pot came with a price tag that was higher than the most exuberant purchases. In 2010, the World Wildlife Fund found the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to be the country with the world's largest ecological footprint, due to factors such as fuel consumption, private jets, limited public transport, man-made islands and inefficient buildings.

As a high income emerging market, the UAE is still grappling with the challenges of rapid growth and urbanization. Nevertheless, the economic power Dubai is grappling with the fact that the future has to be green. With its decision to take action against emissions, the desert mega-city wants to add another superlative to its reputation: Dubai hopes to be the most sustainable city in the world by 2050.

The $ 163 billion investment planned over the next few decades aims to restructure Dubai to meet its energy, water and construction needs in a sustainable manner.

Energy revolution: from earth to heaven

Particularly in a natural resource based economy, it would not be possible to achieve a significant change in carbon emissions without addressing energy issues.

In 2017, the UAE launched their “Energy Strategy 2050” for this purpose. The initiative aims to increase the contribution of clean energy to total energy consumption to 50 percent by 2050 while reducing the carbon footprint of power generation by 70 percent.

Since the 1950s, the Middle Eastern nation has been digging deep into the earth for the oil that has shaped much of the country's economic landscape. However, the UAE has another source of untapped natural wealth: the sun.

A record-breaking solar farm in the Dubai desert, which cost the government $ 13.6 billion, is said to be one of the many energy investments that will power the city in a greener way. This park will produce some of the cheapest and cleanest sources of electricity in the world.

By 2030, all buildings in Dubai will have solar panels on their roofs.

Public transport overhaul

Until recently, all Dubai residents, including the ruling elite, relied on camels for transportation. However, when the oil boom began in the mid-20th century and modern roads and infrastructure were created, Dubai quickly grew into an auto-centric city.

As part of Dubai's vision for 2050, one of the priorities is to help residents get rid of their cars through a reliable and efficient public transportation system in order to reduce carbon emissions.

After some investments, the metro in Dubai with a length of 74.6 kilometers is the longest driverless and fully automatic subway network in the world. The mega city also has the first tram line outside of Europe that is working on the underground power supply.

In a city where running or cycling can be a challenge due to the heat, Dubai will also experiment with drone taxis, known as “flying taxis,” and driverless transport pods in the near future.

Rain in the desert of Dubai

In Dubai it rarely rains, only briefly and of course only a few times a year. However, the city's over 3 million residents need water. Dubai's extravagant facilities such as the diverse golf clubs, man-made islands, lush gardens or the indoor ski center increase the demand for water. Although the UAE is one of the most arid countries in the world, it also has one of the highest per capita water consumption in the world at 550 liters per day.

As such, addressing discrepancies takes an exceptional approach, but Dubai has it. It can rain in the desert thanks to a meteorological manipulation technique called “cloud seeding”, in which clouds are sown with small particles to make them rain or snow. Though it might dampen the mood of sun-seeking tourists, the National Center for Meteorology and Seismology can conduct dozens of successful experiments every month.

Dubai still largely relies on desalination, an energy-intensive process that makes seawater potable. However, as the energy in the country is likely to become cheaper and cleaner thanks to solar investments, this process will have less of an impact on the environment.

New infrastructural regulations and improvements will also aim to reduce water waste, a problem that is accelerated by inadequate water management networks.

While climate change could create new uncertainties about water around the world, the UAE Research Program for Science to Improve Rainfall will benefit investments in optimizing water security.

Low carbon buildings

According to the World Resources Institute, buildings are responsible for 32 percent of global energy consumption and a quarter of global human-made carbon emissions. Those numbers are even more drastic for a country like the United Arab Emirates, where residents rely heavily on air conditioning to cope with the scorching heat. Buildings in the United Arab Emirates consume around 75 percent of all electricity produced in the country.

Therefore, green buildings are high on the agenda to become the most sustainable city in the world. In 2014, Dubai City Council made all new buildings environmentally friendly.

A promising development that is in line with Dubai's vision for 2050 was the USD 354 million mega-project “The Sustainable City”. This solar-powered, compact city requires minimal water and energy consumption, while its state-of-the-art design aims to maximize the quality of life within the complex.

The Sustainable City, a private settlement on the outskirts of Dubai with residential, leisure and commercial areas, opened to residents in 2016 and will be fully completed in 2020. Many other similar initiatives are likely to settle in the desert city over the next few decades.

Green desert, green world

Karim El-Jisr, who founded the Sustainable City Institute in Dubai, told Reuters that the effort to create a sustainable Dubai "seemed a bit like a dream at first."

But through private and public cooperation, innovation, intelligent technology and forward-looking thinking, the dream is beginning to bear its first fruits. El-Jisr hopes these sustainability efforts will soon be the norm.

Today it is no longer difficult, tomorrow everyone has to do it.

Karim El-Jisr, Chief Sustainability Officer at Diamond Developers

If building a green and sustainable oasis in the middle of the desert in Dubai is possible, then it is undoubtedly possible anywhere.

dormakaba editorial team

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