By RP Siegel / Source: TriplePundit


One thing I promised to look into, after having won the trip to Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2015 based on a vision of my city in 2030, was to get a sense of the vision for this place in the same time frame.

Abu Dhabi is clearly one of the most sustainability-focused, forward-thinking cities in the world. This stems from a massive commitment on the part of the iconoclastic ruler Sheikh Zâyed bin Sulṭân Âl Nahyân, father of the current ruler.

The country’s wealth came from oil, which allowed it to sprout from a minor fishing village into a bustling modern city in just the past 50 years. Given Abu Dhabi’s harsh environment, it is not an easy place to implement a brand new vision. Yet, the combined mounting pressure of rapid growth and dwindling water supplies give a unique shape to the challenge the emirate faces. It was a credit to the Sheikh that he recognized that a major step in the direction of sustainability — something few others were doing at the time, especially in this part of the world — was just the right medicine for his people.

Perhaps the most critical issue here is water. Situated in a desert, atop a non-renewable aquifer alongside the Persian Gulf, Abu Dhabi doesn’t have a lot of opportunity to safely expand its supply. The Gulf, isolated from the Indian Ocean by the Straights of Hormuz, already has salinity levels considerably higher than most places. That means that the use of desalination plants, which return salt back to the Gulf after purifying water for human consumption, is limited.I think my hometown of Rochester, New York, would be happy to trade some of our water for some of Abu Dhabi’s sunshine if that were possible. But given that the emirate, with a population of 2.3 million, could potentially double in size in the next 15-20 years, the water shortage presents a big challenge.

One vision for 2030 here, says Kirk Duthler, a consultant who works with Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), is to reduce per capita water consumption by 80 percent. This will require some sense of sacrifice, to be sure, but Abu Dhabi currently uses water at a rate three times that of the U.S. Irrigated forests, outdoor plants and lawns, as well as washing cars, are all luxuries that will have to be cut back on in this very dry part of the world. Water-saving technologies will also play a role, as will the increased use of recycled water, which is already being used to help nourish roadside plants.

But probably the most effective action is the one the government just took, which was to put, for the first time, a tariff on water.

Believe it or not, this city — which has aspirations to become a paragon of sustainability, rated among the best in the world — has provided both water and electricity, free of charge, to UAE citizens up until now.

The new water tariff, which took effect Jan. 1, is likely to make a big difference. Not leaving any stones unturned, however, the emirate is also investing heavily in rainfall enhancement science (cloud-seeding), which will be a long-term effort with potentially huge rewards. Abu Dhabi’s government has brought a number of heavyweight international scientists onboard, including Dr. Roelof Bruintjes of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Colorado.

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