How do I reduce my carbon footprint as a Dubai resident?

In the UAE, the average person uses up as many as 450 plastic bottles a year, with only a small percentage being recycled.

Wam file photo
Wam file photo

By Chandra Dake

Published: Sun 5 Jun 2022, 12:24 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Jun 2022, 12:27 AM

Installing solar panels, drinking filtered water instead of bottled, changing eating habits, switching to electric/hybrid vehicles, setting up home gardens, and cutting down on air travel are a few tested-and-tried ways residents of Dubai (as well as the rest of the UAE) can reduce their carbon footprint. It is not necessary to do it all at once, nor is it feasible because setting up solar panels or buying an electric vehicle requires significant investments. People can instead focus on small changes, which can cumulatively lead to greater impact over time.

Here is a list of simple-yet-impactful steps that Dubai residents can take to reduce their carbon footprint.

Rethinking food habits

Food systems tend to be complex. Hence the research on the environment-friendly diet is still evolving. However, there is a general consensus among experts that decreasing meat consumption — particularly red meat — is a major step in reducing carbon footprint. This is because a lot of water, land, and animal feed goes into meat production, and the cows themselves have a considerable methane footprint. According to a study(1) by the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, one serving of beef gives off over six pounds of carbon dioxide. In contrast, the carbon footprint of a serving of rice, potatoes, carrots, legumes (beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, chickpeas, etc.), or apples is less than half a pound.

Moreover, a 2017 report(2) published in the journal Environmental Research Letters indicated that the environmental impact of red meat is 100 times more compared to plant-based food. So, considering that UAE residents consume around 80 kilograms of beef annually(3), reducing the intake or switching to a vegetarian or pescatarian diet could be consequential.

Cutting down on waste

When organic waste decomposes, it gives away carbon dioxide and methane. This is a cause for concern in view of a study by the Dubai Carbon Centre of Excellence (DCCE), which notes that a resident produces 2.7 kilos of waste each day on average. This includes both food and packaging. According to another estimate, about Dh13 billion worth of food goes to waste in the UAE every year.

This is perhaps where individual households can truly help the country achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. To that end, less eating out, purchasing locally produced food, and opting for reusable shopping bags are some of the practices one can adopt and inculcate in the household.

Water conservation

Sustainable water usage — both for drinking and other purposes — is one of the most effective methods of reducing emissions. Across the globe, people have become fairly dependent on bottled water. In the UAE, the average person uses up as many as 450 plastic bottles a year, with only a small percentage being recycled. Therefore, a shift to drinking filtered water is not only good for the environment but also cost-effective for consumers, especially in the long run. Filtered drinking water is healthier as it decreases the consumer’s exposure to various toxins and micro-plastics — and is environmentally responsible because it reduces plastic waste.

As far as non-drinking usage is concerned, residents of Dubai can save a considerable amount of water by reducing wastage while showering, watering their plants and gardens, washing cars, etc. Innovative solutions like Breathable Sand are enabling water-wise landscaping, by reducing irrigation requirements by nearly 80% compared to conventional standards. The expanded application of Breathable Sand, in decentralized harvesting systems, has enabled practitioners to capture surface runoffs, store the water efficiently, and reuse it.

Less driving and flying; More public transportation

Transport accounts for nearly a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions(4), with air travel being the primary contributor. Flying may slash your travel time by hours but it comes at a huge environmental cost — the largest emissions per person per kilometre, next only to private car travel. Vehicles with an internal combustion engine (ICE), which is fueled by diesel or gasoline, carry a substantial footprint. In contrast, emissions via trains are only one-fifth that of planes. So, opting for train rides whenever feasible could reduce our carbon footprint significantly. At least using public transportation once a week could do wonders for the environment.

Making mega lifestyle changes is certainly not easy — which is why we must focus on smaller, realistic steps. For instance, while giving up meat entirely may not be feasible, cutting back on the weekly or monthly average consumption is doable. In 2022, on the back of the most sustainable World Expo ever, the motivation to reduce the individual carbon footprint is as clear as day.

Chandra Dake is CEO of Dake Rechsand. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the policy of this newspaper.

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