View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Masdar Model City is Environmental Extravagance

Masdar Designed to Lead the World
Much media hype surrounds the news of the UAE’s Masdar, projected to become by 2016 the ‘greenest city’ in the world. This new district, thirty kilometres from the city of Abu Dhabi will eventually be home to 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses. It will be waste and carbon free, due to the no car policy and the solar powering of its necessities.

A spokesperson for the Masdar development said that the new inhabitants of the city will have “the highest quality of life with the lowest environmental footprint. Masdar City will become the world’s hub for future energy. By taking sustainable development and living to a new level, it will lead the world in understanding how all future cities should be built.”

Environmentally Extravagant
Models can be helpful for enabling people to see and believe that a new way is possible. But is the building of this new city with its massive $20 billion price tag warranted to give a constructive lead to the world in environmental management?

According to the most recent figures the UAE has the unenviable reputation for having the largest ecological footprint in the world. While there are measures being implemented to address this high wastage of resources one must ask whether this fledgling nation is qualified to be a world leader in this sphere.

Centuries ago on the Arabian Peninsula the statement was uttered, “If someone forces you to go one mile [requirement], go with them two miles [choice].” What is being attempted in the Masdar experiment is to walk the second or fifty-second mile without walking the first mile in basic environmental responsibility.

While the announcement of Masdar has left many people in an afterglow, high energy consuming desalination plants are being proposed across the Emirates, mountains are being wrecked by the quarrying of rocks for city skyscrapers, polluted skies exacerbated by dust storms are choking the atmosphere at dangerously high levels and in many regions there are no adequate recycling services for paper, plastics and glass.

The Choice
If the residents of the United Arab Emirates were given a choice—spend $22 billion on creating an environmental model for 50,000 future residents who will live on six square kilometers or use $22 billion to provide basic recycling services, affordable solar panels for every household and effective measures to cut exhaust emissions that would benefit the almost 5 million current residents living on 83,000 square kilometers—what option would they choose?

When cost is no object to the UAE, the easy option is to construct a new city using expensive materials. How much better leadership might be given to the world if the UAE transformed an oil-guzzling and wasteful nation into an ecologically responsible country which recycled its precious resources and adopted environmentally clean sources of energy even while its oil wells were far from empty.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Masdar: A glimpse into what this city will look like.

More information about the Masdar City can be found at The Masdar Initiative.

A promotional video entitled ‘Masdar Initiative—World’s First 100% Carbon Free Community’ can be viewed courtesy of YouTube.