The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently issued its latest climate report, and the sobering conclusions contained within have made it apparent that the world’s current environmental trajectory is no longer viable.
If we continue, extreme weather conditions will grow in frequency and intensity to the point where the world will become an increasingly unpleasant place to live. The economic costs are already being felt by governments, with billions of dollars in damage caused by droughts, wildfires, and floods.
As a signatory to the IPCC, the UAE issues its own report, compiled by the UAE Ministry of Climate Change & Environment. The 2021 report states that: “Studies focused on the UAE and the Arabian Peninsula agree that average temperatures have risen and continue to rise”, and that “these changes in the UAE and the Gulf region’s climate will lead to a range of impacts on critical sectors, including energy, infrastructure, health, agriculture and the environment.”
It’s clear that something needs to be done, and thankfully the UAE is already taking the right steps. The UAE Vision 2021 National Agenda focuses on improving the quality of air, preserving water resources, increasing the contribution of clean energy and implementing green growth plans. As part of its objectives, by 2050 there will be 30 per cent water saving, 40 per cent increase in consumption efficiency, and a 50 per cent supply of renewable and clean energy to achieve a 70 per cent reduction in our carbon footprint.
The strategy aims to position the UAE as a world leader of green technologies that support economic growth. So how do we achieve this delicate balance between economic growth and long-term environmental sustainability?
The answer lies in a fundamental rethink in our approach to economic development that starts with sustainability as a core objective, rather than an afterthought. In this regard, I feel extremely privileged to be leading a project like Sharjah Sustainable City. Projects like Masdar City in Abu Dhabi and The Sustainable City – Dubai are helping us learn what it will take to meet the housing and social needs of a growing population without negatively impacting the environment.
So, what exactly is a ‘sustainable city’? They are part of a global movement providing practical solutions to the increased demand for food, water and natural resources, which have doubled in the past 50 years. They are designed with the aim of reducing the community’s carbon footprint, being fully powered by renewable energy, while recycling water and waste. They include electric mobility solutions such as charging stations for electric vehicles and autonomous EV transportation.
For the hot weather of the GCC, developers can benefit from smart home automation, water-saving appliances and energy-saving electrical devices to deliver savings on utilities. Architects can apply intelligent design and building orientation to avoid the sun and maximize shading to reduce heat gains. They can also include insulated UV reflective walls, roofs and windows to reduce air-conditioning loads, electricity power consumption, and operational carbon.
Outdoors, they can use pavers with high Solar Reflective Index (SRI) to reduce heat gains and thermal discomfort. Even waste can be utilized to create a circular economy. Organic waste such as food, green waste and sludge can be treated on site with a biogas plant to convert it into a resource (electricity and/or thermal energy) and reduce emissions from garbage trucks.
Any residual organic waste can be dried and used as fertilizer for landscaping. Onsite sewage treatment plants can treat wastewater to for landscape irrigation, achieving 100 per cent water recycling, and avoiding emissions associated with tankers.
But there is always more to be done, lessons to be learned, and new innovations to be made in the realm of sustainable development. We have partnered with the American University of Sharjah to support academic research into sustainable development. Involving today’s bright young minds will ingrain sustainability into their mindset as they become tomorrow’s professionals, and help them shape a sustainable future for themselves and their children.
What is essential, moving forward, is for all real estate developers to take the lessons learned from sustainable projects and apply them to all real estate projects moving forward to ensure that our economic development does not come at too high a cost.