Sustainable development confers the development of human activities in an environmentally friendly manner. Most cities are starting to embrace the concept to overcome environmental challenges that undermine the longevity of development activities and the vibrancy natural ecosystems. Abu Dhabi is at the forefront of this initiative.
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This paper explores the underpinnings of sustainable development, as a concept, and as an international statute, that defines development activities. This analysis occurs through the understanding that economic, social, and environmental pillars of development define sustainable development. A deeper understanding of how sustainable development affects natural ecosystems also suffices in this regard.
Based on the understanding that sustainable development is an essential guideline for future developments, this paper uses Abu Dhabi as a case study to explore the adoption of the concept in the desert city. The progress and vision of Estidama and Masdar city, as sustainable pioneer projects in the UAE, show that Abu Dhabi has a promising future in the adoption of sustainable development.
This paper also shows that Abu Dhabi is a leader in the adoption of sustainable development not only in the UAE but also in the wider Arab Gulf region. However, compared to other sustainable cities in the world, Abu Dhabi’s sustainable development plan stands out because it has unique sustainable challenges that stem from its extreme climatic conditions.
Moreover, Abu Dhabi has a unique cultural background that prevents the adoption of western-styled principles of sustainability. In this regard, this paper affirms that Abu Dhabi adopts a special set of standards for sustainability that appeal to its local dynamics. Lastly, compared to other sustainable cities around the world, Abu Dhabi’s vision of sustainability appears to be highly ambitious.
Sustainable development is a commonly used term that denotes the ability of present generations to meet their needs, while ensuring the protection of future generation needs as well (Gandhi 654). Sustainable development is, therefore, a human activity development paradigm that seeks to maximise existing resources in a way that maximises output, to avoid wastages and minimise resource use.
In the seventies, analysts conceived the concept of sustainability to describe economies that achieved a balance between their economic needs and environmental concerns (Gandhi 654). Economists adopted this concept after touting the idea that economic sustainability was subject to limits of growth (Swanson 630). As an alternative, they proposed that different countries should strive to have a steady-state economy, which balances economic and environmental needs.
This paradigm of sustainability stemmed from the idea that the world contains limited resources. Since most human activities deplete these resources, nature overstretches its limits to support social activities. Therefore, people have to seek better ways of sustaining human activities, in a way that balances human needs and environmental needs. Stated differently, people have to seek sustainable ways of sustaining their development activities.
A common concept of sustainable development is environmental conservation. However, ecological conservation emerges as a small constituent of a larger concept of ecological sustainability. Similarly, the idea of environmental conservation falls within a wider continuum of three concepts that define sustainable development – “environmental sustainability, economic sustainability, and social-political sustainability.” Recent analyses into the concepts of sustainability aim to introduce culture as a tenet of sustainability.
Observers who push this idea also suggest that sustainability should have only four distinguishable concepts – economic, ecological, political, and cultural sustainability (Gandhi 654).
Nonetheless, despite the different categories of sustainability, four domains of the concept have emerged as acceptable criteria for understanding sustainable development. These domains include economics, ecology, culture, and politics. Politics, as a domain of sustainable development, have surprised many people, especially concerning how it fits into the conventional understanding of sustainable development and its tenets.
Its acknowledgement in sustainable development, however, stems from the involvement of the United Nations Global Impact Cities Program, which identified politics as a critical tenet of sustainable development (because of its influence in defining the governance structures needed to do sustainable development work) (Swanson 630).
This analysis also highlights the exercising of social power as an important power tool that should ensure different stakeholders (needed to do sustainability work) perform to their maximum potential. This idea also stems from the fact that political will is critical in doing sustainability work. Indeed, as Dovers (5) asserts, the answers to several social and economic challenges experienced today largely depend on political solutions.
Through the incorporation of politics, as a tenet of sustainable development, the economics of change (which significantly affect sustainable development) equally manifests in this regard. This emphasis is specifically real in the provision of private (or public) solutions for problems that often manifest as global problems (this is often a controversial topic because the provision of private solutions to global problems often present rooms for financial exploitation by private entities).
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Another notable controversy that informs the politics of sustainability is the measurement of sustainability, through the formulation of sustainability metrics and indices. For example, a common political debate that characterises the politics of sustainability is the argument that rich countries support sustainability as a concept to limit growth in developing countries because during their developmental stages, these countries polluted the environment.
Nonetheless, despite the truthfulness or falsification of these arguments, politics emerges as an essential tenet of sustainable development. However, for purposes of this report, this paper shelves politics as a component of sustainable development because of its controversial nature.
Instead, this report focuses on economic sustainability, social sustainability, and environmental sustainability as the main pillars of sustainable development. In later sections of this report, this paper analyses these pillars of sustainability with respect to UAE and Abu Dhabi. However, before delving into the practicalities of applying this concept in the gulf, it is first important to understand sustainable development as a law.
Sustainable Development Law
A key concept of sustainability is the law that defines the concept. International law on sustainability largely provides the guidance on how sustainable development should work. Even though there is little contention regarding the fact that sustainable development manifests in international law, there is minimal consensus regarding the fact that sustainable law follows the principles of customary norms of international law (CISDL 2).
This lack of consensus does not, however, mean that sustainable development law does not follow the patterns and meanings of normative values in international law. Instead, sustainable development law may be considered as, “an interstitial norm, which serves to reconcile other conflicting norms related to the environment, the economy and social development (including human rights), and also simply the object and purpose of many international treaties and legal instruments” (CISDL 2).
In the precincts of international law, experts have fronted sustainable law development with the aim of harmonising other norms and practices that concern development (in a social and economical way) (CISDL 2).
Stated differently, sustainable law development aims to harmonise how other norms and practices surrounding social and economic development should integrate with sustainable development, to conserve the environment. Integrations of these norms and practices have emerged in several past cases that sought to address how social and economic developments should continue, with respect to environmental conservation.
For example, the integration of norms and practices in sustainable development emerged in the Gabcikovo – Nagymaros Case, which showed that new norms and practices should be considered in the formulation of sustainable development law (CISDL 2). The outcome of the same case showed that project managers should observe the principles of sustainable development in new developments and in the continuation of past developments.
However, the adherence to sustainable development practices in an ancient development provides a challenge to lawmakers because in the past, people undertook investment projects with very little concern for the environment. However, given the proliferation of new scientific insights on the environmental implications of development, many countries have subjected their old projects to new environmental laws that govern how project managers undertake existing projects (Dovers 7).
Through the above understanding, sustainable development law should not stand on its own, as an isolated clause, but rather, it should promote the protection of the environment and the minimisation of environmental risk in development projects (because it is a mutually reinforcing framework). The duty of environmental law to protect the environment has, therefore, stood out as a respectable principle of international law.
This principle not only applies to activities that involve environmental assessments but also activities that involve the arbitration between two or more parties as well. Its application is especially common in instances where trade, or other laws, intersect with environmental law. In such instances, sustainable development laws play a normative role in outlining the implications of independent laws or activities (CISDL 2).
International treaty laws regard sustainable development as a goal, rather than a process. This objective often influences how people interpret such treaties. In this regard, sustainable development has also emerged as a guiding principle in arbitrating disputes (mostly between developed and developing countries).
In the same manner, the same doctrine informs the decisions of international arbitration courts. From the role of sustainable development laws in interpreting and defining international treaties, it, therefore, comes as no surprise when CISDL (3) says, the same law is at the centre of many international treaties and agreements, such as,
“The 1992 UN Convention on Biological Diversity and its 2000 Cartagena
Protocol, the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the 1994 UN Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought, the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, and many others” (CISDL 3).
From the relevance of sustainable development law in international treaties, it is correct to say; sustainable development forms an integral part of international law. In fact, most international treaties that highlight natural resource use and environmental concerns, as a critical component of their conception, use sustainable development law to interpret their agreements.
Furthermore, as highlighted in this paper, the sustainable development law also applies to economic treaties and international trade agreements. For example, the 1994 Marrakesh Agreement (co-signed by the World Trade Organisation) acknowledged sustainable development as a critical tenet of its multiple objectives (CISDL 3). The ability of sustainable development law to combine economic, environmental, and social concerns in development informs its widespread acceptability in trade and international treaties.
Beyond the international application of sustainable development law, it is also important to understand why many nations accept sustainable development laws in their social and economic contracts. This paper shows that the acceptability of sustainable development laws, in such contracts, mainly stems from the importance of global ecosystems in social and economic development.
A common philosophy that informs the concept of sustainable development is the acknowledgement of a common future. At the centre of this philosophy is the understanding that the world is a system that supports all forms of life (through the connection of space and time).
Scientists also rely on this philosophy to promote environmental awareness because they say one activity in one region of the world is likely to have a ripple effect on another part of the world (United Nations Environment Programme 1). For example, the pollution of air in China is likely to have an impact in Africa, while the pollution of water in India could have a negative impact on marine life in Japan.
By understanding the world as a system, it is easier to understand how ecosystems influence social and economic developments. Moreover, through the conception of the world as an ecosystem, it is easy to affirm the view that natural ecosystems are indispensable to not only human life, but also wildlife and marine life. A disruption of these ecosystems may lead to disastrous social, environmental, and economic outcomes (such as the loss of income, human conflict, and even the displacement of populations).
The World Health Organisation (2) says that the causal link between human well-being and the natural ecosystem is often indirect, as the relationship is highly complex and dynamic. For example, environmental destruction may cause changes in disease patterns, while climate change may worsen malnutrition levels in the world.
Sepúlveda (632) says that climate has the greatest effect on the global ecosystem. Its impact on global ecosystems manifests in different ways. For example, a rise in global temperatures may cause an increase in seawater levels and the infiltration of freshwater systems. This infiltration may lead to the migration of marine life, which normally thrives in freshwater conditions.
In another example, an increase in global temperatures may cause species of animals to migrate from their natural habitat to other areas. For example, the impacts of urban expansions on important ecosystem zones occur in Nakuru town, which is in Kenya’s rift valley.
In the small town, the United Nations Environment Programme (2) says the encroachment of urban dwellings and the dumping of untreated industrial wastes on natural ecosystems (Lake Nakuru) explain the dwindling numbers of flamingos and the depleting water levels in the lake. This ecological concern has caused jitters in Kenya’s tourism sector because Lake Nakuru depends on its vast flamingo populations to attract tourists from around the world (United Nations Environment Programme 2).
The same environmental degradation has happened in Argentina, where the United Nations Environment Programme (2) traced dwindling fish numbers to the encroachment of urban dwellings on natural ecosystems. In a related finding, the United Nations Environment Programme (2) also says that low amounts of cod stocks in the Northern Atlantic and dwindling fish stocks, off the coast of West Africa, affirm this trend as well.
The influences of climate change on global ecosystems do not only end with their effects on animals because it affects human development activities as well. Albeit the impact of climatic factors on human development may be limited to a few environmental factors, a significant impact of ecosystem disturbance may be realised if these factors occur at the same time.
For example, climatic factors (such as tornados and hurricanes) may potentially affect the future of human developments in coastal areas. Also, if normal rains turn to hailstorms, agricultural productivity may decline (through increased soil erosion).
The understanding of the world as an ecosystem has a great implication for the overall rate of human development and the conceptualisation of sustainable development, as a new paradigm of development. For example, globally, the populations of people living in urban areas have greatly increased in the last two decades. Most of the world’s population is, therefore, living in cities. Experts project that this trend will continue to strengthen soon (Swanson 630).
The rapid shifts of human populations from rural areas to urban dwellings pose serious implications for modern cities because the existence of cities largely depends on the health of the ecosystems that support them. Moreover, even though cities may only occupy about 2% of the earth’s surface, their high levels of natural resource use largely strain the existing ecosystems (United Nations Environment Programme 2).
Besides, cities account for the highest concentration of pollutants, which affect the global ecosystems as well. It is therefore prudent to find an amicable balance between urban development and ecosystem needs because cities mainly depend on existing natural ecosystems for the supply of food, regulation of quality of life, and the enrichment of urban dwellings.
It is easy to measure specific aspects of contributions that natural ecosystems make to cities (such as the provision of food and water), but it is difficult to estimate the intangible benefits that natural ecosystems provide for the same cities. For example, this paper already shows that natural ecosystems enrich cities.
This enrichment may be in aesthetic or spiritual terms. From the implications of human encroachment on natural ecosystems, the effect of human development activities on natural ecosystems manifest. In fact, experts say the impacts of urban growth on natural ecosystems show that most cities affect a greater geographical region, more than the size of land that they cover (Dovers 7).
From the understanding that human activities play a significant role in the destruction of natural ecosystems, it is inevitable to point out that human activities may also be part of the solution for mitigating this effect. For example, cities may comprise part of the solution for sustainable development.
Illustratively, cities may easily protect and manage fragile natural ecosystems through the establishment of oversight bodies that regulate human activities and repair the damage that occurs on such ecosystems. Indeed, similar to the way cities may have an expansive negative effect on geographical regions that are beyond their scope, the same cities can also have a positive effect, beyond the geographic regions that they stand on.
For example, the establishment of green zones in established cities and the connection of such zones to natural ecosystems may provide an opportunity for increased contributions to sustainable development, by modern cities. Illustratively, the United Nations Environment Programme (2) suggests that “Small towns and big cities can make up watersheds – an area of land that catches precipitation and drains or seeps into a marsh, stream, river, lake, or groundwater” (United Nations Environment Programme 2).
Through such plans, many modern cities may find sustainable development to be a highly fulfilling and cost-saving exercise that would save them many hassles of mechanically intervening to protect the environment. For example, most cities around the world source their domestic water supplies from protected natural ecosystems that surround the cities. The initiatives of such cities to protect such ecosystems help to improve their diversities and surrounding ecosystems as well.
Another way that modern cities can help to promote the goals of sustainable development is through their urban planning systems. In other words, urban planning systems should be able to protect the environment by protecting natural ecosystems from human activities. For example, cities may prevent the construction of buildings on wetlands to protect the environment. Relative to this assertion, the United Nations Environment Programme (2) claims,
“Although the primary impetus to conserve the natural ecosystem stems from a desire to reduce the risk of flooding and to drain stormwater, such regulations also support biodiversity by maintaining natural ecosystems close to the city, improving the quality of life for urban residents, and providing essential space for urban wildlife” (2).
Through the above assertion, natural ecosystems emerge as essential influences of social and economic development. Comprehensively, natural ecosystems provide a lot of diversity in cities because they ensure the existence of different species and the supply of essential utilities to city inhabitants. Relative to this assertion, United Nations Environment Programme (2) says, “Clean water, foodstuffs, medicines, and quality of life are just a few of the services which biodiversity offers to cities” (United Nations Environment Programme 2).
Through the recognition of the contribution that natural ecosystems make to cities, some cities appreciate the importance of preserving their natural ecosystems. However, these actions should spread further beyond the cities because a positive recognition of the role of biodiversity in our lives should have a global impact. These impacts manifest as the positive effects of global ecosystems.
Effects of Global Ecosystems
Many benefits accrue from the safeguard of global ecosystems. One such benefit is the safeguard of human health, on a long-term basis. If authorities guarantee their people of long-term quality health, there are likely to be positive social, economic, and political benefits in the end as well.
For example, World Health Organisation (10) says that the protection of global ecosystems may lead a society to be more productive and congruent in the long-term. The protection of natural ecosystems may also bring more equity in the provision and access to food and natural resources.
For example, human diseases, which occur through the degradation of the environment, may decline through the safeguard of natural ecosystems. Global ecosystems, therefore, play a vital role in ensuring the quality of human health. However, the failure to protect global ecosystems may also lead to undesirable outcomes. Indeed, the safeguard of quality human health also spreads to the understanding that human safety also depends on the commitment to protect global ecosystems.
Arguably, scientists have drawn the link between the destruction of global ecosystems and rampant environmental hazards (United Nations Environment Programme 2). Blizzards, hurricanes, and tornadoes are just a few examples of the impact of environmental destruction on global ecosystems.
Even though these natural disasters used to occur in the past, their increasing intensity stems from the destruction of global ecosystems. Moreover, their frequencies show that nature continues to be more unstable because of intense human activities. The rampant occurrence of these natural disasters and their increasing frequencies pose a threat to human safety because natural disasters have become more unpredictable and intense.
In their natural forms, global ecosystems would be able to mitigate some of the effects of these natural disasters, but because of irresponsible human activities, people have become increasingly vulnerable to such adverse climatic conditions (World Health Organisation 10). Rapid deforestation and destruction of natural habitats provide a few examples of the extremes of human activities on the environment.
For example, deforestation limits the ability of the environment to mitigate some of the effects of extreme climatic conditions, such as strong winds and hurricanes. Moreover, through deforestation, soil erosion has become more severe, while droughts have become more frequent. Increased air pollution from some of the world’s emerging economies, like China, has also increased the severity of natural disasters, thereby making a larger population of people to be highly exposed to these natural disasters.
Comparatively, besides the increased vulnerability of the world’s population to the adverse effects of extreme climatic conditions, many people also depend on the vibrancy of natural ecosystems to earn a living. Tourism is one such sector that greatly depends on the vibrancy of natural ecosystems (Harrison 294). If human activities destroy these ecosystems, people would lose their livelihoods and fail to sustain their families. In fact, in some countries, tourism contributes a significant portion of the national GDP (Harrison 294).
The collapse of such a sector would, therefore, spell doom for such economies because it may lead to their eventual collapse (Harrison 294). Although the UAE economy is not entirely dependent on tourism, as its main export, a destruction of its natural ecosystem would affect the country’s economy, significantly. Environmental analysts have already warned against the rampant infringement of natural ecosystems in the UAE (Harrison 294).
For example, the construction of artificial islands off Dubai’s coast has sent jitters among environmentalists who believe such expansive human activities affect natural ecosystems, negatively. For example, these analysts have warned that the continued construction of artificial islands in the coastline affects wind patterns and the natural habitat of marine life (United Nations Environment Programme 2).
Interestingly, while many environmentalists caution against this trend, Dubai’s tourism industry relies on its marine ecosystem to sustain its tourism numbers (deep-sea divers often come to Dubai to watch its marine life). The destruction of the country’s ecosystem, therefore, threatens the fabric, which holds part of the UAE’s economy (tourism). The same situation replicates in other parts of the world, which depend on tourist numbers to improve the well-being of their people.
From the above analysis, the protection of the natural ecosystem poses several advantages to human habitation and comfort. For example, the establishment of green zones in cities helps to improve the quality of air by filtering pollutants. Planting trees and protecting them from human and animal destruction in towns may also help to improve waterways through the minimisation of soil erosion.
In desert areas or other places with extreme climatic conditions, the protection of the natural ecosystem also helps to reduce energy costs by reducing the warming effects of the environment. This way, people do not have to spend a lot of money on air conditioners, or other equipments, to cool their environment (the protection of the natural ecosystem may also recharge groundwater supplies by minimising the effect of pollutants in water sources).
Since the continued degradation of the environment is likely to cause serious ecological impacts, the safeguard of global ecosystems may help to mitigate this effect by conserving the environment. For example, environmental degradation is among the most reliable explanations why some parts of the natural ecosystem (such as rivers and lakes) disappear (Harrison 294). This explanation supports the view that environmental degradation may cause serious and permanent ecological damage.
Worryingly, on a larger scale, if the ecological damage continues to occur, the economic, political, and social processes that support human societies may collapse, thereby leading to social and political instability. The protection of natural ecosystems, therefore, helps to avoid such eventualities. Comprehensively, it is correct to say that the protection of global ecosystems not only helps to preserve the environment, but also helps to promote social, economic, and political stability.
Introduction of Sustainable Development its Main Points (Economic, Social, and Environmental)
A major challenge for the adoption of sustainability is the failure to understand the main concepts of sustainability in the first place. In project management, sustainability covers a wide scope of analysis, to include the design, construction, and demolition phases of a project (Gandhi 654). The dynamism of sustainability (as a concept) often poses different ramifications in its application because, on the one hand, the flexibility is good because it allows for an easy fit into different facets of a city’s sustainable vision.
One the other hand, the flexibility of sustainability may make it difficult for designers to harmonise its different concepts and promote one goal of ensuring human development activities are sustainable. Nonetheless, to understand how sustainability manifests in present and future human development activities, it is important to understand that sustainability contains three main facets- economic, social, and environmental.
A controversial tenet of the concept of sustainable development is the economics of sustainability. The controversy surrounding the concept of economics in sustainable development stems from the criticisms levelled against the use of the three-thronged approach to sustainability – economics, environmental, and social (Gandhi 654). Criticisms levelled against this approach stem from the assumption that many people consider economics to be the superior concept in sustainable development studies (Swanson 630).
People who hold such beliefs say the economic concept almost acts exclusively to social factors because it does not fit in the economic realms of reality. Nonetheless, despite the validity of these arguments, the concept of economics emerges as an essential concept in sustainable development because it outlines how people should manage resources. Through this understanding, it is important to say that the economics of sustainable development largely occurs in the broadest sense of the word (management of resources).
Based on the arguments surrounding economic sustainability, the concept appears to be the most dominant pillar of sustainability. Despite the accuracy of the arguments advanced to support or undermine this fact, the idea of economic sustainability merely aims to derive the maximum output from any given resource.
The idea behind this principle is to derive the maximum output from a given resource, in an environmentally responsible way, and in a manner, which ensures the longevity of the activity (Swanson 630). For example, if we mirror this approach to a business context, the concept of economic sustainability would demand that a business operates in a manner that ensures its long-term existence and its long-term profitability.
Many assessments of economic sustainability denote values of economic sustainability in financial terms. For example, most resources would be valued in a specific currency to understand the importance or significance of a resource. The idea behind this evaluation is to identify areas where people may eliminate inefficiencies to realise improved productivity.
The same process identifies areas, where production flows, may be undermined so that more room emerges for corrective measures to occur (before the actual implementation of plans) (Swanson 630). This process aims to identify the impact of changes on one area of production on other activities and processes.
In the Abu Dhabi context, the concept of economic sustainability manifests in its vision 2030, which strives to ensure the desert city, sustains its economic activities through the adoption of green energy (Government of Abu Dhabi 1). This pillar of the vision is unique for a town that controls vast deposits of oil resources.
However, although Abu Dhabi sits on huge oil deposits, the city’s leadership has resolved to ensure that its green energy initiative sustains in economic activities. Therefore, in line with its economic sustainability plan, wind and solar power are key energy sources that may dominate the next decade (Abu Dhabi has a huge potential of harnessing this energy because the city is located in a desert area).
The concept of social sustainability mainly outlines the usability and appropriateness of sustainable projects for its intended users. The concept of social sustainability dictates that sustainable projects should easily fit into the lifestyles and social dynamics of its host population (Gandhi 654). This is why it is often difficult to imitate principles of sustainability from one society to another society, especially if the two societies do not share the same ideals.
For example, the next section of this report shows that sustainability principles in Arab societies differ from sustainability principles in western societies. For instance, while Copenhagen and Abu Dhabi strive to reduce their carbon emissions, in the transport sector, by reducing their dependence on cars, as the primary mode of transport, both cities circumnavigate this issue in different ways.
In detail, Copenhagen has replaced cars for bicycles and Abu Dhabi has replaced cars for more massive capacity modes of transport (like trains). Both cities may eventually reduce their carbon emissions, but depending on their cultures, they adopt different ways of doing so. It would be wrong to assume that since Copenhagen has reported tremendous success in the use of bicycles, to reduce its carbon emissions in the transport sector (Hernandez 288), Abu Dhabi could quickly introduce bicycles, as well, and achieve the same result.
This is because the culture and social dynamics of the Danish people easily accept the use of bicycles, but the same ideology may not necessarily fit in the Arab context. The concept of social sustainability, therefore, dictates that sustainable development projects should largely appeal to the unique social dynamics of its users (Gandhi 656).
From the above understanding, Abu Dhabi understands the importance of its sustainable development projects to appeal to its social and cultural dynamics. For example, even though Abu Dhabi aims to overhaul most of its traditional pillars of economic development, the city does not intend to change its social dynamics in the process. Instead, Abu Dhabi’s population boasts of a wealthy Arab heritage that it seeks to maintain, even in the wake of extensive paradigm changes in development (Government of Abu Dhabi 1).
Certainly, according to Abu Dhabi’s vision 2030, the city intends to merge most of its modern designs (in the construction sector) with traditional designs, so that modernity does not mark the end of the city’s Arab culture. The blend of modern and traditional designs in the city should accommodate the varying lifestyles of Abu Dhabi people, besides denoting the evolving culture of the Emirate.
Despite the importance of culture in understanding sustainable development, it is crucial to say that the concept of culture is a relatively new addition to the understanding of sustainable development. Some analysts added this concept because new researchers did not believe that focusing on the economic, ecological, and political forces (alone) could address all the sustainable development concerns of today’s contemporary society (Gandhi 657).
Proponents of this point of view say that culture is essential in understanding sustainable development because almost all public policies on sustainable developments have a cultural aspect in their implementation. The European Union (through the concept of sustainable development in a diverse world) says that the inclusion of cultural dimensions highlights a new way for carrying out sustainable development (Gandhi 656).
More specifically, the power of culture in easing the adoption of sustainable development stems from its ability to give a social meaning to the concept (Swanson 631). Nonetheless, it is critical to say that the proposition of culture as a strong pillar of social sustainability has not been widely embraced by all analysts, mostly because culture only denotes the social-political understanding of sustainable development (Swanson 631).
Similar to the concept of social sustainability, environmental stability strives to ensure human development activities do not clash with the environment. An ideal situation would see a seamless integration of these human development activities with natural ecosystems. However, this has not been the case in many development projects around the world. Human activities have traditionally interfered with natural ecosystems and caused a severe depletion of resources.
Deforestation and the displacement of animal populations (because of human activities) provide some examples of cases where social activities have failed to integrate with the environment (United Nations Environment Programme 2). The concept of environmental sustainability aims to ensure that human development activities do not harm the environment (in any case, they should improve the environment).
For example, most sustainable development project plans contain a provision outlining the management of wastes. Some plans propose the recycling of wastes (like wastewater), treatment of wastes, while others suggest that wastes should be disposed in an environmentally friendly manner. These plans fall under environmental sustainability because they outline how human activities should integrate with the environment (United Nations Environment Programme 2).
The concept of environmental sustainability may, however, be the broadest component of sustainability because it covers a very wide scope. Moreover, most components of sustainability plans aim to ensure the plans are environmentally sustainable. For example, reductions of carbon emissions, improvement of energy efficiency, and the treatment of wastewater disposal (which constitute a great part of the argument in this paper) outline environmentally sustainable practices.
A key component of the concept of environmental sustainability is the concept of ecology. However, the concept of ecology is often challenging to understand, especially regarding how it fits into the broader realm of sustainable development (because of its incorporation of social dynamics).
However, instrumental groups of people who support the incorporation of ecology into the understanding of sustainable development activities say ecology epitomises the relationship between nature and culture. Some people also say ecology defines the relationship between social and environmental factors in the broader understanding of sustainable development (World Health Organisation 10).
For example, the conception of human habitation stands at the centre of the relationship between social and environmental factors (by exploring how human habitation blends with the wider natural ecosystem – human ecology). The concept of human ecology has a wider implication of including human health into the understanding of sustainable development. Coincidentally,
“Fundamental human needs such as the availability and quality of air, water, food and shelter are also the ecological foundations for sustainable development; addressing public health risk through investments in ecosystem services can be a powerful and transformative force for sustainable development, which, in this sense, extends to all species” (World Health Organisation 11).
Comprehensively, environmental conservation outlines an important part of the concept of ecology (in the understanding of sustainable development) because environmental sustainability understands the fact that natural systems have their limits.
The Future of Sustainable Development in Abu Dhabi
In the past couple of decades, most Middle East economies have witnessed rapid economic development. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is not an exception. Funded by oil revenue, the UAE has dramatically expanded its economy to be among the most vibrant economies in the world. Now, unlike a decade ago when the country mainly depended on the oil sector, the UAE economy now boasts of a vibrant tourism sector, real estate sector, manufacturing sector, and service sector.
At the centre of UAE’s rapid economic development is the vibrancy of Abu Dhabi as an economic and financial hub. The Emirate is also the largest in the UAE. According to Mezher (744), Abu Dhabi is highly endowed with several natural resources that have fuelled its rapid development as a global economic hub. The great prosperity of the residents of Abu Dhabi can, therefore, trace to the contribution of the Emirate’s natural resources to its economic and political development.
Since most of the economic developments in Abu Dhabi have ridden on the back of natural resource exploitation, environmentalists have said that Abu Dhabi’s rise to be an economic powerhouse comes with a serious environmental impact (Mezher 744). The high ecological footprint of Abu Dhabi confirms the growing carbon footprint of the Arab world, as described in the diagram below.
Figure One: Arab World Emissions (Source: United Nations 2)
A forecast of the diagram above shows that this trend may persist in the next decade. The high carbon footprint of Abu Dhabi is only indicative of an even higher carbon footprint for the UAE. This poor environmental record traces to two main issues – greenhouse gas emission and poor management of water resources.
The high greenhouse gas emission that is synonymous to Abu Dhabi stems from the high consumption of energy in the industrial sector and the sprawling growth of urban dwellings, which have increased the demand for energy. The poor record of water management traces to the limited water resources in Abu Dhabi and the high demand for water in the Emirate.
Often, these two problems occur simultaneously because the high water consumption levels and the limited water resources in the Emirates have forced the government to depend on seawater desalination as the main source of water. The desalination of seawater has increased the energy consumption in the UAE, thereby further adding to the carbon footprint of the country.
The concept of sustainable development has only started to gain credence in Abu Dhabi in the past decade. Historically, the government paid little attention to this issue, but environmental concerns have forced it to reconsider its position on the matter. To explain this concern, Smeets (2) says,
“Several countries (and individual Emirates) in the Gulf face energy shortages, primarily due to abundant gas consumption, and besides the pollution from heavy industry and large-scale desalination of seawater have adverse effects on the local environment, threatening the health condition of the citizens” (Smeets 2)
Smeets (2) also contemplates that before Abu Dhabi receives a positive environmental record, the Emirate will first have to eliminate the obstacles of adopting sustainable development. One such obstacle is its high-energy demand. Behavioural challenges also exist in the same regard. These issues highlight a common debate among analysts who have studied the attitudes of people in Abu Dhabi (concerning energy consumption) (Smeets 2).
This debate revolves around the fact that the Abu Dhabi government has always subsidised energy prices, thereby creating the idea that energy is in abundance. Therefore, some people do not feel the pressure to conserve a resource that they believe is in abundant supply. Another side of this argument is the social contract that exists between the Abu Dhabi government and the citizenry because the government has a social contract to provide low-cost energy.
Therefore, the elimination of government subsidies on energy cost remains a contentious issue. Nonetheless, this debate has not dampened the spirit of the Abu Dhabi government to support sustainable development. For example, in 2009, the Abu Dhabi government introduced the renewable energy policy to ease the demand for energy. The policy created a 7% dependency rate on renewable resources (in the production of energy in Abu Dhabi) (Smeets 2).
Abu Dhabi’s Sustainability Record
Abu Dhabi has made significant strides in improving its environmental record. At the pillar of its efforts, the Abu Dhabi government has received praise for increasing the use of renewable energy and replacing traditional sources of energy for clean energy.
For example, a recent report by Mayton (1) shows that Abu Dhabi has greatly boosted its efforts to harness the sun’s energy and use clean sources of energy, in the recent past. The Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi has also affirmed this positive environmental record. In 2012, the same agency said that Abu Dhabi had a positive rating in other sectors of sustainable development, such as the enhancement of biodiversity (Smeets 3).
The recent positive environmental rating of the Emirate is a product of a coherent push by private and public stakeholders to promote the use of renewable energy in Abu Dhabi. Therefore, the use of renewable energy and the reduction of energy consumptions have been at the top of the Agenda for Abu Dhabi organisations. With the support of the top leadership of the UAE, Abu Dhabi has not relented on its quest to adopt sustainable development because this vision perfectly fits within the Emirate’s vision 2030 plan.
Analysts have hailed the role of the plan in steering developments in Abu Dhabi to be more sustainable (Smeets 3). In fact, according to Mayton (7), Abu Dhabi’s vision 2030 plan seeks to “break complex development issues into understandable, manageable, and achievable targets and offers a tool we can use to make decisions that protect the environment and the quality of life for future generations (Mayton 7). The vision 2030 plan contains several flagship projects (some of which outline below)
The Estidama project is one initiative introduced by the Abu Dhabi government, which shows the government’s commitment to adopting sustainable development practices. The Urban planning Council of Abu Dhabi launched the Estidama initiative in 2008 to meet the growing need for the introduction of sustainable development initiatives in the UAE (Reeder 208).
Like the model of sustainability proposed in this paper, the Urban Planning Council introduced the Estidama initiative with the goal of providing a sustainable development initiative that could easily balance environmental, economic, social, and cultural needs, in one project. These dimensions inform the multi-purpose design of the Estidama project. On completion, the Estidama project may affect different facets of life in Abu Dhabi. The Government of Abu Dhabi (2) says,
“Once fully adopted, Estidama is expected to affect various facets of day to day life, such as school curriculum, investment decisions by sovereign wealth funds, infrastructure planning, evaluation and implementation, the health of land and marine environment and the sustainable use of food and water” (Government of Abu Dhabi 2).
Besides being a pioneer project in the UAE, the Estidama project forms a core plan of vision 2030, as proposed by the Abu Dhabi government. The same government has mandated the Urban Planning Council to undertake this project with the help of development partners who share the same vision of revolutionising Abu Dhabi to be a model sustainable city (Reeder 208).
In detail, the Estidama project aims to provide a perfect blend of developmental needs, environmental needs, and the Middle East culture, to provide an acceptable sustainable model that would address present needs without compromising the needs of future generations. Relative to this aim, the Government of Abu Dhabi (3) says, “The key mission of Estidama is to create a new sustainability framework to guide the way and enable adaptation when the new concept takes shape” (Government of Abu Dhabi 3).
At the core of the Estidama project is the principle of sustainable living, which involves the contribution of all stakeholders in the promotion of a sustainable model for Abu Dhabi.
To ensure the Estidama project lives up to its aim of being a sustainable project, the Abu Dhabi government ensured that its design phase included four essential tools of sustainability – “regulatory and code alignment, the pearl rating system, pilot project and stakeholder participation, and the education and training of partners regarding the Estidama project” (Government of Abu Dhabi 4).
Here, the pearl rating system emerges as an essential sustainability tool for this project because this system evaluates the entire project to ensure it meets sustainability standards.
Moreover, the pearl rating system is very dynamic to include all the activities of all stakeholders in the project (including contractors, designers and even the local community) (Reeder 208). All these small stakeholder groups are subject to the pearl rating system and their compliance to this system ensures that the Estidama project lives up to its expectation as a model sustainable project.
The Masdar City project is similar to Estidama, in the sense that the designs of both projects are revolutionary (in the adoption of sustainable development as the new operational paradigm). Similar to Estidama, the Abu Dhabi government also funds the development of Masdar City.
A vital feature of the project is its sole reliance on renewable energy (solar). Another key feature of the city is its carefree policy, which also hinges with the goal of making the city a zero-carbon metropolis (Mezher 745). Through its goal of becoming a pioneer sustainable city not only in the UAE, but also across the gulf region, the government expects many clean-tech companies to set up their headquarters at Masdar.
Like the Estidama project, many of the Masdar city plans involve the contributions of several stakeholders. However, a key stakeholder in the Masdar city plan is the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, which occupies a great part of the city. The institution has collaborated with its US counterpart (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to provide practical engineering solutions to make Masdar city a sustainable economic hub Mezher (745).
Some of the solutions provided by the institutions include a drastic reduction of energy and water. For example, the building that houses the Masdar Institute of science and technology uses up to 70% less water, compared to other buildings in Abu Dhabi (Mezher 746). The same building is also almost entirely reliant on renewable energy (the building can also monitor its energy consumption in a similar manner – as an additional feature).
Besides solar power as the main source of renewable energy, Masdar city also plans to use other renewable energy sources like wind power. For example, a preliminary research into the potential of wind power in the city shows that the city will benefit from about 20 megawatts of power that the city may produce from its outskirts (Reeder 210). Similar preliminary research into the potential of geothermal power in the city shows that Masdar city may also benefit from this source of energy as well (clean energy).
Still, to ensure the Masdar plan remains true to its goal, there is an elaborate plan to ensure the city uses its water resources in an efficient manner. This paper already shows that Abu Dhabi largely relies on desalinated water. However, unlike the past, Masdar city will use solar energy to power these desalination plants (Reeder 210).
This strategy will be a departure from the past because Abu Dhabi used to increase its energy consumption by using conventional energy to power its desalination plants (Mezher 744). The use of solar power, to meet the city’s water needs, may reflect a 60% reduction in energy use (compared to other desalination plants of similar capacity) (Mezher 746).
Masdar city will also set new standards for water management because its designers intend to recycle about 80% of the city’s used water (Reeder 210). The city will also use some of the recycled water for agricultural purposes. Besides the effective management of water, Masdar city also intends to reduce its total volume of waste to near zero. This strategy is in tandem with the zero-waste policy that the designers expect to characterise the city (Reeder 210).
Some of the biological waste that will be collected from the city will be processed and used to make fertilizers for agricultural use (waste minimisation). The city will also use some of this waste to generate power. In detail, industrial waste will be recycled, while the city will use some of the waste (that cannot be recycled) for other purposes.
So far, the Masdar project has received a positive response from global institutions that focus on promoting sustainable development. For example, the World Wide Fund for nature has hailed the project for its elaborate plan of reducing waste and minimising energy consumption (Reeder 210).
The World Wide Fund for nature has also received the support of another global entity, Bioregional Organisation, which has also hailed the Abu Dhabi government for coming up with a sustainable development plan that involves zero-carbon emissions and a zero-waste policy (Mezher 746).
Both organisations have also received the support of Greenpeace Movement, which also hails the project for its positive environmental record. The Greenpeace Movement however also agitates the Abu Dhabi government to transform its existing metropolis into sustainable cities as well (Mezher 746).
Similarity and Differences between Sustainable Development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Worldwide
As mentioned in this report, Abu Dhabi has largely relied on the pearl rating system as its unique model for measuring its sustainable development projects (Estidama). However, other parts of the world normally use other rating systems. For example, most European countries use the British Research Establishment Environmental Assessment (BREEAM) to evaluate their sustainable projects (Elgendy 3).
Similarly, America uses the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) method to evaluate its projects. The choice of rating system does not mostly depend on the strength of the system, but rather, on the familiarity of the system in the market.
Therefore, Abu Dhabi’s choice of the pearl rating system largely stems from its appropriateness to the UAE market. Besides, as explained by Elgendy (3), the UAE has unique cultural and market factors that ensure the pearl rating system would not duplicate the components of other rating systems, as adopted in other parts of the world. The pearl rating system, therefore, addresses Abu Dhabi’s unique cultural characteristics.
The difference between the pearl rating system and the BREEAM system, or LEED system, largely stems from the differences in their design guides. For example, Elgendy (3) says the pearl rating system is not an exclusive document because it forms part of the pearl design system, as outlined by the Abu Dhabi government.
To further explain the uniqueness of the pearl rating system, Elgendy (5) says, the pearl rating system “includes a complementary design Guide and supplementary Application Guides for public works, parks and infrastructure. Like LEED and BREEAM, the Pearl Rating System for Estidama (for example) includes several rating systems assessing buildings, villas, and neighbourhoods” (Elgendy 5).
According to Elgendy (3), the pearl rating system differs from the LEED and BREEAM systems because it is a blend of both rating systems. In other words, the pearl rating system strives to blend the positive attributes of both systems by promoting dialogue between practitioners and the system. The pearl rating system also strives to make its adoption easier for practitioners to use because its requirements are often less onerous than other rating systems.
Particularly, analysts see the pearl rating system to be less onerous than the British version of the system (Elgendy 5). Practically, unlike the pearl rating system, which identifies a specific objective and leaves it to the designers to identify how to meet the objective, the BREEAM system articulates the objectives of the sustainability plan and the achievement of these objectives.
The LEED system also shares the open-ended nature of meeting project objectives, but as Elgendy (3) says, this method requires much documentation to affirm the compliance to sustainability standards. Based on an analysis of their applications, Elgendy (3) says the pearl rating system is closer to LEED than it is to BREEAM.
Focus on Energy Consumption
Many countries around the world have adopted different methods for improving their environmental record. Some have adopted recycling as the major form of sustainable activity, while others have embraced the re-use of waste products to conserve the environment.
However, most countries have focused on reducing their energy consumption as a sustainable development method. In fact, most countries have preferred to adopt strategies that reduce their energy bill by embracing energy efficiency activities and processes. Abu Dhabi’s sustainability plan resembles other sustainability plans in this regard because both sets of plans focus on reducing their energy consumption.
Carbon Emission Policy
Abu Dhabi is unique to several cities, which embrace sustainable development because its carbon emission policy differs from other cities. While most cities strive to reduce their carbon emissions, Abu Dhabi aims to have a zero-carbon policy. This means that the city not only wants to reduce its carbon emission, but it also wants to have no record of carbon emission, in totality (Mezher 746).
Masdar city is a perfect example of the actualisation of this policy because designers expect the city to have no carbon emissions at all. Analysts are yet to ascertain the practicality of this policy, but experts have already put structural pillars in place to actualize this goal (Mezher 746). For example, Masdar city does not expect to use cars. Instead, the city may provide transport for thousands of its citizens through mass transport engines, which rely on clean energy.
Unlike Abu Dhabi, most sustainable cities strive to adopt a more pragmatic approach of reducing their carbon emissions, instead of declaring that they would have no carbon emissions at all. Vancouver city is one such example, as it ranks among the five most sustainable cities in North America. The city’s planners have always declared that the city has achieved tremendous reductions in its carbon emission (of between 11% and 20%) (Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore 78).
However, the city still grapples with the new challenges of reducing its carbon emissions (through the emergence of growing economic sectors that increase carbon emissions, instead of reducing them). For example, carbon emissions in the automobile sector have increased by about 11% (Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore 78). While the city has experienced significant challenges in controlling carbon emissions in such sectors, other sectors have supported the objective of realising low carbon emissions.
For example, the building sector has reduced its carbon emissions by about 18% in the last decade (Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore 78). This reduction mirrors similar reductions of carbon emissions in the UAE construction sector, as most buildings in the Arab city strive to reduce their carbon emissions by reducing their energy consumption and adopting the use of clean energy (like solar power) to run their operations.
Unlike Vancouver, Copenhagen’s carbon emission policy resembles Abu Dhabi’s because carbon emission policy because the city strives to be carbon-neutral in the next decade (Hernandez 288). This policy mirrors Abu Dhabi’s carbon emission policy because the Arab city also strives to have a zero-carbon emission in some of its cities in 2020 (Hernandez 288).
The methodologies adopted by both cities to actualise the zero-carbon policy also resemble, because Abu Dhabi and Copenhagen intend to maximise the use of wind power and increase the use of clean energy in their transport and construction sectors. In line with the zero-carbon vision, Gerdes (8) says,
“Acting on a City Council plan approved last August, Copenhagen intends to replace coal with biomass, to add more wind and solar electricity to the grid, to upgrade energy-guzzling buildings, and to lure even more residents onto bikes and public transit” (Gerdes 8).
The massive use of bicycles as a common mode of transport in Copenhagen is however unique to Copenhagen because Abu Dhabi does not intend to use this strategy to reduce its carbon emissions.
In an unrelated context, just like Vancouver and other cities that are on their way to be sustainable cities, Copenhagen also experiences its share of challenges in the actualisation of the zero-carbon dream. For example, the city faces the challenge of a bulging population that has more energy demands than ever before. Practically, Copenhagen expects its city population to increase by about 100,000 (by the year 2025, when it expects to have actualised the zero-carbon policy) (Gerdes 8).
Despite such challenges, the city remains committed to reducing its carbon emissions because it believes that the world will win the fight for a zero-carbon society in cities. Indeed, as the United Nations Environment Programme (1) reports, established cities like Copenhagen, Abu Dhabi and Vancouver account for about 70% of the carbon emissions reported in their localities.
Many sustainable cities adopt sustainable development practices, based on their climatic conditions and the challenges they experience, locally (concerning sustainability). This means that the nature of sustainable practices adopted by every city largely reflects the unique needs and characteristics of the city. Abu Dhabi is unique in this regard because unlike other sustainable cities around the world, Abu Dhabi’s sustainable practices largely appeal to its climatic conditions (arid and semi-arid conditions).
Indeed, a comparison of other sustainable cities, like San Francisco, Copenhagen, Vancouver, Curitiba, Oslo, Chicago, London and Tokyo, show that Abu Dhabi is unique because it is located in a desert region. This means that Abu Dhabi faces a particular sustainability problem, which concerns water management.
It is therefore unsurprising that most sustainability plans in Abu Dhabi have a clause that outlines how the city will manage water resources. Moreover, this paper already shows that water treatment and desalination accounts for a huge portion of Abu Dhabi’s energy bill.
Certainly, compared to other countries around the world, the UAE does not have renewable freshwater resources like other countries around the world. According to, Lee (8) a comparison of six major countries around the world show that America, France, United Kingdom, Germany, and Jordan many freshwater sources in that order.
However, since the UAE does not have any freshwater sources, it is last in this list. Ironically, for a country that does not have any freshwater source, a similar comparison of average residential use of water shows that Abu Dhabi’s consumption of water tops the list of average consumption of water among the six countries sampled above (Lee 8). In detail, America’s water consumption is second to Abu Dhabi’s water consumption.
This domestic consumption increases in France, UK, Germany, and Jordan, in that order (Lee 8). A perfect explanation for this trend would be the desert conditions that characterise Abu Dhabi (which lead to an increased demand for water). Furthermore, the growing tourism sector (increased tourism numbers) has also caused a significant strain on the city’s water network.
From the above analysis, it is correct to say, other sustainable cities do not experience Abu Dhabi’s water challenge because they are not located in a region that experiences water scarcity.
In fact, some of these sustainable cities are located in regions that have a lot of water and therefore, they do not have to incorporate water management as part of their sustainability plan (this fact does not, however, mean that other sustainable cities fail to conserve their water). Therefore, comparatively, water management is a key highlight of most sustainability plans in Abu Dhabi.
Climate change is a reality that we need to confront today. More so, we need to mitigate the effects of climate change through the adoption of proactive, rather than reactive measures. Sustainable development is one such proactive measure that this paper investigates. The evidence gathered in this paper show that climate change is significant for our existence and for the longevity of our development activities.
Even though this paper approaches this problem from the lens of sustainable development in Abu Dhabi, it is still important to appreciate the fact that environmental conservation is a global phenomenon and its solution needs to reflect the same seriousness. This seriousness should especially manifest through the realisation that our human development activities destroy our environment and continue to put our access to food, water, and other social amenities (that come from nature) at risk.
The failure to embrace sustainable development, as the guiding principle for future development means that our social and economic welfare may continue to be under threat. Economically, Schein (1) says that the failure to adopt sustainable practices may lead to a loss of about 5% of the global gross domestic product every year. By far, this figure shows that no country should tolerate the ignorance of sustainable development practices in today’s century.
Most cities around the world have risen to this reality and are embracing sustainable development as an acceptable operational paradigm to guide their development activities. Abu Dhabi is at the forefront of this initiative because in the last decade, its government has shown an unwavering commitment to adopt sustainable development as the primary operational paradigm for new developments in the Emirate. The Estidama and Masdar projects are just a few examples of the numerous projects currently undergoing in Abu Dhabi.
On a broader scale, the UAE government is adopting similar sustainable projects in the other Emirates. For example, Dubai is also home to other sustainable projects in the UAE. The tremendous progress made in Abu Dhabi and other emirates paint a perfect picture of the UAE, which has gained the reputation of being an extravagant country that is characterised by massive resource wastages (because it is an oil producer).
The dwindling oil reserves and the realisation that the UAE needs to embark on diversifying its economy from oil has however brought the need for the adoption of sustainable practices because Abu Dhabi and other emirates need to find sustainable ways of undertaking their developments.
This realisation is a positive evaluation of the UAE government, which is trying to address a growing trend that would probably dominate future development projects not only in the UAE but across the rest of the world as well. Therefore, through the success of pioneer projects like Masdar and Estidama, it is correct to say that the future of sustainable development in the UAE is promising.
Still, based on the assessment of sustainability practices in Abu Dhabi and the rest of the world, it is easy to point out that even though Abu Dhabi and other cities strive to uphold sustainable principles of development; their methodologies differ slightly. For example, this paper shows that Abu Dhabi’s development practices largely appeal to its local situations and environmental challenges, while the rest of the world have a more uniform approach of embracing sustainable development (albeit with few cultural variations).
For example, the adoption of the pearl rating system by the Abu Dhabi government is a bold attempt to adopt a localised sustainable rating model that appeals to the culture and needs of Abu Dhabi. Most of the sustainable practices adopted in Abu Dhabi also seek to address local environmental challenges in the UAE, such as acute water shortages.
Other sustainable cities around the world, however, adopt a more conventional approach to sustainable development, especially by embracing principles of reducing energy consumption and reducing carbon emissions. Therefore, Abu Dhabi’s sustainable development design is very ambitious and bolder than other sustainable development plans from other parts of the world.
This paper already gives the example of the zero-carbon policy as a special sustainable development plan of Abu Dhabi that very few cities bother to imitate. Only Copenhagen’s sustainable development plan surfaces as a possible match to this policy. However, unlike Abu Dhabi, Copenhagen’s plan does not embody a bold attempt to build a city from scratch and make it fully sustainable (like Masdar City in Abu Dhabi). In fact, most cities that bask in the glory of being sustainable towns have not developed from anything.
Instead, most municipalities and local governments strive to build sustainable cities by modifying some of the core operational processes of the city. For example, London, San Francisco, Chicago, Oslo, and Copenhagen (just to mention a few) bask in the glory of being (or becoming) sustainable cities by modifying their city development plans to reflect elements of sustainability. Abu Dhabi, therefore, is a leader among its peers for having ambitious plans to build sustainable cities from nothing.
As this paper appreciates the importance of sustainability and the efforts made by global cities to embrace it, it is still important to acknowledge that the transition to embracing sustainability is not a process without challenges. The leadership trait especially manifests as an important prerequisite for the realisation of sustainable goals because it denotes the commitment to embrace sustainability.
The importance of securing good leadership is essential in this regard because sustainable development is often a controversial issue that most people may easily ignore because of negative rhetoric. Other factors that may contribute to its failures are characteristic of the process. For example, adopting sustainable practices may be a costly affair for most cities, which may be preoccupied with other development priorities.
This reason explains why some people regard sustainable development as an afterthought. Similarly, the adoption of sustainable development practices may be lost in philosophical arguments regarding the authenticity of the arguments that surround the concept. For example, the adoption of sustainable development stems from climate change arguments because scientists believe that we need to protect our environment from adverse environmental effects like climate change.
However, there is an opposing school of thought, which believes that climate change is a fallacy. Such arguments greatly undermine the adoption of sustainable development practices. It is, therefore, crucial to have a strong leadership focus that should ensure sustainable development remains a priority for most societies.
Nonetheless, globally, many countries face different types of challenges that hinder the adoption of sustainable development. For example, the United Nations (1) estimates that many people still live below the poverty line. This problem compounds through the acknowledgement that other pressing problems’ like income inequality, illiteracy, and unsustainable consumption (among others) also persist.
The existence of some of these problems not only exacerbates the problem of unsustainable development because they also hinder the adoption of sustainable development. For example, high illiteracy levels in some countries may prevent the understanding, or appreciation, of sustainability. High poverty levels in some countries also exacerbate the same problem by making the adoption of sustainable practices to be among the last priority issues for such countries.
Moreover, extreme poverty may also be counterproductive to the goal of sustainability, as many people still depend on their primary environments for their existence. For example, it would be difficult to tell a poor community not to cut trees if they do not know an alternative source of energy that they can afford. Through such an analysis, it is essential to understand that the realisation of sustainable goals may largely depend on the inclusivity of every group of people in the society.
More specifically, people who champion the goal of sustainability need to consider the needs of the poor and vulnerable people in the society. Indeed, as United Nations (1) argue, the success of sustainable development, as the new development paradigm, largely depends on the ability of policymakers to challenge traditional patterns of consumption and their flexibility to adapt to different levels of development.
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