Advancing low-carbon urban development in the UAE

Abdulla Al Nuaimi of Emirates Wildlife Society – WWF says an understanding of the science, research and policies behind the UAE’s climate change potential is crucial

Sustainable City in the UAE

Climate change has the potential to alter the UAE and the wider region forever. It is for this reason that Emirates Wildlife Society, in association with WWF (EWS-WWF), continues to support the significant steps required towards low-carbon living and development in the UAE. As you already know, global temperatures have been rising for over a century – speeding up in recent times to the highest on record.

In the last 100 years, human activity has increased the Earth’s temperature by 1°C. By the end of this century, it could be anywhere between 1.4°C and 5°C higher. Most of our cities and industries are located in flat coastal areas, so these developments and people’s livelihoods are going to be affected by more extreme weather events and rising seas. Fortunately, there are positive actions available to individuals and industry, but the need to act cannot be stressed enough.

Sustainability through partnership

To encourage and facilitate lasting change, EWS-WWF develops lasting partnerships with industry in the UAE. Advancing low-carbon urban developments in the UAE forms part of these partnerships. One such example is The Sustainable City (TSC) by Diamond Developers, a residential and mixed-use development covering 46 hectares in Dubai. EWS-WWF and TSC entered into a strategic partnership to address climate change, promote renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

TSC demonstrates how a low-carbon business model can be transformational for real estate development in the UAE, while positively contributing to economic growth. Completed in 2016, phase one of the development has become an international case study for sustainable living, work and wellness, and aims to become the first operational net zero energy development in the region.

Phase two, slated for completion in 2019, will comprise three facilities: Hotel Indigo, Fairgreen International School and an Innovation Centre to advance and share knowledge on urban sustainability. Total emissions from TSC in 2017 were 8,761 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e).

The top three emission sources were electricity (51%), waste (24%) and water consumption (11%). By working together from the planning stages to effectively monitor and record such data, it becomes possible to achieve ambitious targets and make significant steps towards low-carbon urban development in the UAE. 

Why partnerships matter

At EWS-WWF, we believe that the UAE is well positioned to accomplish renewable energy targets and reductions in our carbon footprint. Record prices for both solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power electricity generation are allowing the use of renewable energy technologies to become a commercially viable option throughout the nation.

As our work with TSC demonstrates, transitioning to renewable energy provides great economic opportunities for those committed to reducing their emissions. Through our Sustainability Partnerships Programme, the private sector can join hands with EWS-WWF to play a larger role in the development of renewable energy solutions in the UAE.

As a federal NGO, in association with WWF, we are committed to helping our society to redefine its relationship with our planet so that people can live in harmony with nature, and it is through mutually beneficial partnerships that tackling climate change becomes a reality. Climate change is one of the biggest threats currently facing the planet and humanity – but we have a wealth of solutions at the ready. All that’s required is action.

Policy recommendations

Drawing from the operations of TSC, including relevant opportunities and challenges for carbon mitigation, Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF has formulated recommendations directed at policymakers at federal and local levels, to advance sustainability in the built environment. Here is an overview of the renewable energy policy recommendations.

  • DEWA’s Shams Dubai initiative has made installation of rooftop solar panels financially viable for the end user. This initiative could be adopted in other emirates so that there is an accelerated integration of solar power into UAE’s electricity grids.
  • Distributed solar generation could be mandated for all new construction projects in UAE, including residential and commercial buildings.
  • Minimum renewable energy offsets are recommended as part of local green building regulations.
  • Urban planning authorities and real estate developers could make optimal use of net metering programmes like Shams Dubai. Specifically, homes have the potential to achieve zero emissions by maximising solar uptake both on- and off-site.

How GHG Emissions Reduction at The Sustainable City work

TSC villas are built with sustainable design principles and fitted with energy efficient air-conditioning and appliances. This has resulted in an Energy Use Intensity (EUI) value of 97kWh/m2, about 39% lower than the minimum EUI of conventional villas built according to local new building construction regulations and specifications (160kWh/m2). Additionally, TSC has installed 6.4MWp of rooftop photovoltaic panels. These installations provide clean energy and will further reduce total emissions in 2018 as the remaining modules come online. Aggressive demand side management and renewable energy uptake have effectively lowered the GHG emission intensity of TSC villas by more than 50% compared to conventional villas in Dubai.


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