(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Transition from carbon to renewable energy must be smooth says participants at sustainability week.
Models of Masdar projects on display during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. — KT photos by Nezar Balout
Abu Dhabi — There are 500 cities worldwide responsible for 60 per cent of the world’s GDP growth but also for 50 per cent of the global carbon emissions. It is estimated that seven million people die because of pollution which includes environmentally harmful carbon emissions in a year.
How to improve life in urban areas and make cities more sustainable was one of the most discussed topics at the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week on Wednesday.
No more desalination plants!
According to the Ministry of Energy’s most recent statistics the largest amount of carbon emissions in the country is produced by the water and electricity sector: 64.89 million tonnes per year 33 per cent of the total 199.65 million tonnes.
By 2030 the population of Abu Dhabi alone is estimated to triple to 3.1 million with close to eight million tourists expected to visit annually.
With ground water resources depleting — groundwater withdrawal is 23 times the natural recharge rate — the only obvious solution to sustain the future population is desalination plants yet those will add even more carbon emissions not to mention toxic salt residues back into the sea.
At this week’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) stressed on several discussions that the “obvious” is not actually necessary.
“Even though the population and the economy are estimated to triple by 2030 we don’t need any new desalination plants” stressed Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak secretary general of EAD.
The agency has come up with a Water Budget policy for 2015 that seeks the priorities consumption rather than increasing production of water.
“We must not continue to meet increasing demand driven by economic and population growth by simply increasing supply rather it means that we have to be more efficient more productive and more competitive in the ways in which we use water” explained Al Mubarak.
The policy follows the concept of any other budget: when one sector needs more water another needs to reduce consumption.
EAD has already started working with other competent authorities in the emirate exploring ways to implement this policy.
“Abu Dhabi leaders recognise the importance of the transition we need to make from an oil-based lifestyle to a green sustainable one but you can’t take a system that it is based on carbon energy and simply flip it into a renewable energy one; it has to be a transition process” said Anthony Mallows director of Masdar City.
“There is no doubt in our minds that it is not a question of reducing carbon-based energy but a question of completely switching to renewables and we got 35 years to do it” he added.
Sustainability heads of several major cities joined Mallows in the discussion panel ‘Cities as Leaders on Climate Action’ and they all agreed one of the biggest drives towards clean pollution free cities is transport.
“Last year we spent $5.5 million in infrastructure for electric cars” revealed Eric Heineman sustainability director for the city of Illinois (USA).
Battery chargers and Route 66
“The great Route 66 that connects Chicago to St. Louis started as a long highway popular with gas cars and gas stations; now we have installed battery chargers on Route 66 but there aren’t enough electric cars” mentioned Heineman adding that the city now plans to turn Route 66 into a tourist attraction for electric cars.
Sydney Australia currently breathes 26 tonnes of carbon emissions per person per year but plans to reduce them by 17 per cent by 2030 while Barcelona Spain has already managed to cut a good number of private cars from its streets 60 per cent of the city’s transport now being public or non-motorised.
Abu Dhabi started to clean up its air from carbon pollution from cars by introducing public buses and switching public vehicles from fuel to compressed natural gas. Still the city is far from reaching Mallows’ vision of people moving around on foot and when too hot or too tired use a smart app to call an electric car.
If transport is yet to reach greener standards Abu Dhabi compensates in most other areas Masdar City remaining the talk of the world for its sustainability ambitions.
“Masdar City is only one piece but there is a whole constellation around it working towards clean renewable energy” pointed out Mallows.
According to the UAE Ministry of Energy the country produced a total of 199.65 million tons of carbon emissions in 2013 22 per cent of it (44.25 million tons) being from road transportation.
UAE has though 14 emission reduction projects registered under the Clean Development Mechanism the second most in the Arab world after Egypt.