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UAE poised to lead the way in sustainable living

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Dubai has matched the UAE’s national ambitions on every level and shows no signs of slowing down.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” I am reminded of this quote when I think of climate change and the polarising effect it continues to have among nations and leaders. Hindsight is a double edged sword; while it gives a perspective, there’s always the danger that decisions made in ignorance or haste will forever be recorded in history.

This brings us back to the topic of climate change and to the stance the UAE has taken. It is a sign of a great nation that dares to swim against the tide, especially when doing so threatens the very foundation on which the economy has so far been surviving. And yet and in spite of sitting on 8 per cent of the world’s oil reserves and meeting the majority of its current energy demand with fossils fuels, the UAE announced at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi in 2017 that renewable energy would make up 44 per cent of its energy mix by 2050.

Even coming from the most developed country in the world, that would have been a bold statement to make, let alone from a country like the UAE, whose very existence has been based on fossil fuels until recently. It is an example for the rest of the world, an example set by a nation that has put its national interest aside in deference to a global cause.

This is the stuff leading nations are made of. In order for the UAE to achieve the goals it has set, the government is investing $163 billion into renewable, clean fossil and nuclear energy technologies, with expected savings of $190 billion.

It does require commitment to step away from conventional and age-old practices and venture into the unknown. For the UAE, that unknown is renewable energy.

Geographically situated perfectly to receive almost 10 hours of sunlight every day for 350 days a year, the UAE is at an optimal position to take advantage of the latest developments in solar technologies. The low cost of solar energy has also added to its fast-growing business appeal. This was affirmed by none other than Adnan Z Amin, the then director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) at the Biennial Solar World Conference in Abu Dhabi in 2017. He said he was optimistic about the future of solar energy in the region due to its dropping costs.

Another added bonus and a further feather in the UAE’s cap was when the country was chosen as the location to host the headquarters of IRENA. That coupled with the regions’ first research institution dedicated to advanced energy and sustainable technologies at Masdar City, has made the UAE the hub and one of the leading lights in the area of alternative energy sources.

Additionally, the government has made adjustments to its policies to address the issue of climate change. It has set a target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere by 70 per cent by 2050. The strategy of the UAE has been based on two pillars; the first one is to replace its own energy needs gradually but surely from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. In this, the country is well on track to reach its target. Already the cost of solar energy production has gone down to 5.84 cents per kilowatt/hour, making it cheaper than natural gas.

The second pillar of UAE’s strategy is that of knowledge and technology transfer. Even developed economies like Spain, UK and Austria have signed agreements with the UAE in the field of environmental protection and alternative energy. This is an acknowledgement of the UAE’s stature and the respect it is held in by the rest of the world.

The country has never hesitated from helping its neighbours, as well. Since 2013, it has through partnership with the UN or through bilateral cooperation, allocated more than $750 million to projects dealing with development of alternative energy sources.

This also includes water, wind and waste resources.

The future looks bright and sunny for UAE, with the Middle East projected to have as much solar power as current US levels within the coming six years. Dubai has matched the UAE’s national ambitions on every level and shows no signs of slowing down. The government is on its way to construct the Concentrated Solar Power project, be largest single site project.

At a time when most developing countries still lack the technology, human capacity or the finances to tackle their energy sectors, the UAE is poised to step into the leadership vacuum and to lead the way. The country has a ready market for its cheap renewable energy in the shape of Southeast Asia where energy demand is slated to rise to 67 per cent by 2040. The UAE could cater to this rising demand and in the process; it could chart a new model for renewable energy investment.

Habiba Al Mar’ashi is President & CEO, Arabia CSR Network

Dubai is a smart city that connects with people

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A truly smart city is one that lets its citizens come up with a definition of ‘smart’. It is thus, more like a home than a laboratory to its residents. With two thirds of the world’s population expected to be living in cities by 2050, it is time we started taking a more serious look at sustainable living before we run out of space. This is where smart cities come in.

Until a decade ago, the word conjured up images of a dystopian futuristic society where tall sky-high buildings and flying modes of transportation spoke more about the widening gulf of social classes and inequality and less about sustainable spatial living. In reality, quite the opposite is true. Smart cities improve the living standards of its citizens through the use of technology. They have the effect of bridging the digital divide, allowing enterprises to flourish and thrive. In fact, if done right, smart cities do the exact opposite of what was once perceived; they promote inclusion and collaboration between citizens leading to sustainable transformation and collective growth.

In the era of Big Data, knowledge is power. The more information available to the relevant agencies, the better they will be able to analyse changing patterns and trends in real time. This would lead to faster response times and lesser lags and lowering of costs eventually. Through open data, governments can cut costs and increase civic engagement. Through open sharing of data that is easily absorbed and used, governments can increase citizen participation, leading to more innovation by businesses and startups.

Any smart city relies on three essential layers (foundations) upon which its whole façade needs to be raised. The first layer is technology. There needs to be enough users of smartphones to enable a high-speed connection of sensors through which data can flow. After obtaining this raw, unstructured data, there should be a second layer of the right type of applications to translate it into actionable and implementable insights and alerts. The third and final layer relies on the usage of technology by the companies and the public. The success of any application depends on a critical mass of users adopting it and as a result, changing their behaviour. For example, they should encourage people to switch from private to public transport, to reduce water and energy usage. According to estimates, the cities that have successfully adopted smart-mobility applications will be able to reduce commute times by 15 to 20 per cent by 2025.

The success or failure of any smart city initiative depends on whether it is adopted by its dwellers. The essence of a smart city is that it is controlled and run by the public with the government supporting and providing an enabling environment. Dubai has been one of the frontrunners in the sphere of smart city planning. Currently it is ranked at number 40 in the list of most accessible and sustainable smart cities. With more than 93 per cent of UAE’s population living in cities and with Dubai representing one third of the country’s total population, there is much room for improvement. As Dubai grows to accommodate the city’s population increase which is expected to double by 2027, innovative techniques will have to play a huge role.

With the Smart Dubai 2021 roadmap in place, the city is already well on its way towards ushering in a new chapter of transformation using intelligent, personalised and responsive systems. The government has picked the theme of sustainability to guide its long-term vision of being prepared for the future and meeting the needs of the coming generations.

Amongst the green technology initiatives by the government is a plan to move 25 per cent of the city’s transportation into autonomous mode. This driverless transportation is expected to save hundreds of millions of hours spent commuting on an annual basis. Besides helping reduce carbon emissions and lowering transportation costs, these initiatives reflect Dubai’s commitments towards becoming a smart, sustainable and model green economy.

However, there is always room for improvement. Learning from the examples and experiences of other global cities can help Dubai avoid the pitfalls and obstacles that might come in the way. Some concepts to keep in mind for a smart and sustainable city are:

Structure and future proofing: Think of a tall building as a stacked community. There should be room in the infrastructure and design for future configurations and additions.

Multiple ground levels: The ground plan is an essential layer of the city that needs to be replicated at higher floors. In order to restrict horizontal urban sprawl and reduce carbon footprint, multiple ground levels can be replicated in a single building. With parks, streets and other civic functions in the sky, there would be less people on the road, thereby reducing the carbon footprint and the density.

Tropical/perforated city: In order to bring fresh air and nature into densely packed spaces without using mechanical systems, tall buildings can have perforated open spaces in sustainable and imaginative ways.

Natural daylight: The increase in high-rises must not come at the cost of blocking daylight. There should be no dark spots in the city. Light wells/scopes can be strategically placed at vulnerable spots to bring natural daylight into central areas.

Greenery: Noise, glare, dust and heat can be reduced through the extensive use of green living walls which also act as environmental filters. Home owners can also enjoy their own garden plots in the air through this landscaping technique.

Preparing a smart workforce: Any city is as smart as its residents, which is why leading smart cities have recognised the importance of building the capacities of their citizens of all ages with digital skills. Consequently, they have introduced innovative interactive experiences such as hackathons to help communities familiarise themselves with digital tools.

*Blockchain technology: Although still pretty much a new concept, the speed with which blockchain technology is transforming the whole global digital economy is unprecedented. This is a new way that Dubai can look in to integrate block-chain technology in the city services that can boost security and service transparency.

The use of blockchain can vastly improve transactional processes and can be used in self-executing contracts or smart contracts. The technology would speed up the process, remove extraneous steps, protect against fraud and reduce costs. It has proven its effectiveness to be used in a wide array of processes such as billing and transactions processing, handling facilities management, or facilitating smart grid energy sharing.

*Two-way communication channels: At the heart of a smart city is an effective communication channel between the government and the residents of the city. The stronger and responsive these channels are, the better. This concept is also in line with the Dubai Happiness Agenda which is part of the Smart Dubai 2021 strategy.

There is a need to build urban systems for infrastructure, roads, parks and commercial centres. Governments need to consider functionality, liveability and sustainability along with beauty. A smart city must be easy for residents to use and enjoy the facilities.  A strong central infrastructure that is capable of ensuring high level of logistical coherence is a need of the hour for a smart city.

 Habiba Al Mar’ashi, President & CEO, Arabia CSR Network

UAE can take lead in fight against climate change

By | News

It (Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week) is the right kind of spotlight needed at the moment and it gives world leaders the opportunity to come up with long term strategies on a global forum.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends

These words of Martin Luther King Jr. ring just as true today as they did when he first said more than half a century ago. The subject matter behind the quote has definitely changed, but the underlying theme remains timeless; for the greater good of humanity, it will not matter in the end what the naysayers said. What will matter is what you did or said.

For earth, and by extension, for its inhabitants, us, that moment has long since arrived.

Climate change is no longer a fad or hoax inspite of what the unbelievers would have you believe. And the sooner world leaders stopped arguing over the merits and demerits of each other’s arguments and got down to coming up with a way to avoid the iceberg that is rapidly approaching the ship of humanity, the better.

Besides dealing a hammer blow to the global sustainability targets, the dismal performance on climate change has also forced nations such as ours that are forecasted to be hit worst to start looking for sustainable and successful environmental programmes. In the wake of the rubble that is the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change now after the withdrawal of the US, the eyes of the world are looking for a leader to emerge and fill up the void that has been created and to treat the matter as the global pandemic that it is. I believe with all my heart that the UAE can be that leader. It is time for all countries to unite under a common platform and tackle the issue of climate change. The on-going Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) is one of the largest forums that focuses on sustainability. It is exactly the right kind of spotlight that is needed at the moment and it gives world leaders the opportunity to come up with long term strategies on a global forum.

There really is no time to lose. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October 2018, made an announcement that is practically a death knell for life on the planet if it comes true; global temperature if it continues on the current trajectory is projected to rise more than 3C by 2100. That level is more than the target that was set in the Paris Agreement. If the prediction is allowed to come to fruition, low-lying waterside countries such as Bangladesh and Comoros could be the first casualty.

But make no mistake, we will also be soon in the crosshairs. The world as we have known is already changing with focus shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy forms. Naturally that will affect the economy of the UAE but being the resilient nation that we are, this is an opportunity to forge a new identity for ourselves. The UAE has been one of the pioneers in its usage of innovation towards sustainable farming and renewable energy initiatives. An example is Masdar City in Abu Dhabi which is also a co-host of (ADSW). Citizens of Masdar City are part of a pilot project in which they are being encouraged to grow organic food in recycled shipping containers. This is only one such example among many that can be replicated on a large scale.
I would know.

After having fought this battle for almost three decades through my organisation, Emirates Environmental Group (EEG), I believe we are well-poised to take the role of a leader. Emirates Environmental Group has been carrying out campaigns for many years now that instil a sense of community in the people and promote the idea that this planet is our home and that we need to protect it for our future generations.

One of our recently implemented campaigns ‘For Our Emirates We Plant’, which is an annual event, we planted 1,000 indigenous Sidra trees in Sidr nature reserve in Al Minei, Ras Al Khaimah. Another strong platform is our recycling campaign, which involves thousands of companies, academic institutions and families to segregate waste at source and send for recycling. Our achievement in 2018 has succeeded in mitigating 73,393 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions.

I am a firm believer that the environmental legacy of the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan is in good hands. I am confident that the government led ably by the President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and the UAE leadership are firmly committed to ensuring a sustainable environment for future generations.

Habiba Al Mar’ashi is President and CEO of Arabia CSR Network

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