Abu Dhabi: A city with a focus on the future

Abu Dhabi: A city with a focus on the future

One city, though, is not enough. In the 2016 rankings of the most sustainable cities in the world, compiled by the Centre for Economic and Business Research, Abu Dhabi fell from number 34 in 2015 to number 58.



By Silvia Radan

Published: Tue 11 Oct 2016, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 11 Oct 2016, 9:52 PM

Abu Dhabi has big dreams when it comes to sustainable development. Over half a decade ago, Masdar City was announced as the world's first zero-carbon city, absolutely pollution free. While the ideal paper plan proved impossible in reality, Masdar is still working on building the world's most sustainable city.

One city, though, is not enough. In the 2016 rankings of the most sustainable cities in the world, compiled by the Centre for Economic and Business Research, Abu Dhabi fell from number 34 in 2015 to number 58.
In fact, all GCC cities performed poorly this year, none of them ranking in the top 50 most sustainable cities.
What brought down Abu Dhabi's ranking are energy consumption, as well as carbon emissions, which remains high, mostly due to the hot climate, a fossil-fuel based economy and ever-increasing development. The Abu Dhabi government, though, is already working on addressing all these issues. By 2020, seven per cent of the emirate's energy will come from renewable sources; Abu Dhabi's Urban Planning Council only approves new developments with at least basic sustainable features, such as heatproof buildings, water saving taps and energy efficient air conditioning.
No development, though, no matter how sustainable, will get the required approval from the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) if it has a damaging impact on wildlife or protected zones such as mangrove forests.
"You can't have sustainable development without wildlife conservation," stressed James Alexander Duthie, director of Public Relations and Communications at EAD.
"Protected areas, which are sensitive on biodiversity, ensure development is done in a proper, sustainable manner. The two have to complement each other. We don't say don't develop, just develop sustainably," he told Khaleej Times.
Protected areas in the emirate, not just from developers, but largely from visitors too, include Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve, the Arabian Oryx Protected Area and Qasr Al Sarab Eco-reserve
Al Wathba Wetland Reserve
A natural and man-made swamp, Al Wathba Wetland Reserve was established in 1998 by Shaikh Zayed. It was the first place in the emirate protected by law, covering a total area of five square kilometres, comprising wetlands, sabkhas (salt flats), fossilised sands and dunes.
More than 250 species of birds have been spotted here, along with an abundance of aquatic life and37 plant species, but the greatest and most spectacular attraction is its flamingo population. When these migratory birds fly in to spend autumn until spring here, as many as 4,000 can be counted. Even when the majority return to Central Asia for the summer months, they still leave behind a small resident population.
For years, the reserve has been closed to the public, but recently it opened for guided tours during the cold season. EAD also has plans to open its Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve, which includes Bu Tinah island, as well as Qasr Al Sarab's eco-reserve to the public with small guided tours that would not impact on the areas' wildlife.
Marawah Reserve, including several islands, stretches across 120 kilometres, being home to the second largest population of dugongs in the world, a protected endangered species, as well as 18 species of coral reefs and three species of sea grass.
Qasr Al Sarab eco-reserve, located in the Liwa desert, is dedicated to Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Arabian Oryx Reintroduction Programme, which is helping the Arabian Oryx recover from the brink of extinction.
"Abu Dhabi is endowed with a diverse range of eco-systems, including mangrove forests, coral reefs, sea grass, coastal and inland sabkha and sand dunes, which provide numerous direct and indirect goods and services to the local community, such as fish protein, protection of coastal areas from erosion, cleaning the air and water from pollution, sanctuary for important animal species, tourism destinations, aesthetic and cultural values and the storage of genetic material," said Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, secretary general of EAD.
According to her, as of 2016, around 13 per cent of Abu Dhabi's marine habitats are considered protected areas and 15 percent of terrestrial plant and animal habitats are protected.
Much of the conservation work in the emirate is unknown to the public, largely due to visitors not being allowed in most of these protected areas. Since EAD needs the public support, more eco-tourism projects are considered to be developed around some of these eco reserves.
silvia@khaleejtimes.com 
 
 


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