The Gulf monarchies’ looming ‘ecological credit crunch’

Perjantaina, 31. lokakuuta 2008     0 kommentti(a)
Mari Luomi
Kansainvälinen ympäristö- ja luonnonvarapolitiikka -tutkimusohjelma
WWF published its Living Planet Report 2008 this week. The report ranks two Gulf monarchies in the top-three of its ecological footprint index. The United Arab Emirates’ inhabitants, according to WWF, place the world’s heaviest burden on the biosphere in terms of biologically productive land and sea required to provide the resources used and to absorb the waste produced. Kuwait ranks third right after the UAE and United States.

The case of the United Arab Emirates is particularly illustrating of the effect that external image-related pressure can have on the actions of a small Gulf state.

The federation of seven emirates has mostly been used to positive attention in the international media during the last years – take the Dubai model and, more recently, Abu Dhabi's Masdar Initiative. Therefore, the more negative news, such as the working conditions of Asian guest workers or the participation of two Emiratis in the 9/11 bombings, are particularly unpleasant, not least because they can potentially discourage foreign investment and tourism.

The list of international prestige items of the UAE’s two most famous emirates is long. For example, Dubai boasts of the world’s tallest building and Abu Dhabi is constructing the world’s first eco-utopia, Masdar City, soon home to 50 000 people and 1 500 businesses.

Now these two brother emirates also share the title of the world’s most unsustainable place: according to WWF, if the entire world lived like the UAE’s inhabitants, we would need 9.5 planet Earths. The global average footprint is 2.7 (Finland has a footprint of 5.2).

What is particularly interesting about the case of the ecological footprint is that the government will most probably have to stand behind the figures. The previous Living Planet report from 2006, which ranked the UAE equally as number one, was received by the local authorities with suspicion, even implicit rejection. However, the impact of the report was recognised as the government embarked on a cooperative project with the local branch of WWF to recalculate the country’s environmental footprint. The 2008 figures, that are a result of this cooperation, thus have an indirect backing from the government although they were mostly compiled by WWF.

As a consequence, the 2008 report pulled the rug from under the government’s feet. It can no longer credibly hide behind accusations of false figures. The next logical steps would therefore be, first, to admit the problem and, secondly, start working towards a solution.

The pursuit of mega-projects with counterproductive effects for the mitigation of climate change in areas such as heavy industries and real estate, the low local environmental awareness which leads to highly unsustainable patterns of living, as well as non-compliance with environmental standards and legislation are some of the key challenges that need to be addressed.

Before the UAE can credibly claim to be the regional leader in climate awareness (see for example the Masdar Initiative and The Green Dubai World Forum 2008) or green building (see plans on green building regulations), it will have to do more than paint its real estate advertisements green and grow grass in the desert.

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