The sand dune turned booming metropolis known as Dubai has never been a city synonymous with sustainability — extravagance and wealth, yes, but environmental ingenuity? Not so much. But as oil and fossil fuels, in general, take a hit, the city is wasting no time shedding its frivolous rep and reinventing itself as a hub of innovation, according to a recent article in Popular Science.
Beyond bolstering its reputation, Dubai has a lot to gain from shifting its focus away from building islands and zeroing in on the future. The city’s oil reserves — and those of neighboring Abu Dhabi — catapulted Dubai into an era of economic prosperity, but climate change, which has already begun to rear its ugly head in the region, could just as quickly cause Dubai’s descent from the top.
While countries such as the United States have the luxury of debating the very existence of climate change, Dubai is already experiencing its very real effects. Severe drought and extreme temperatures plague the region and the city struggles to locate fresh water sources. But rather allowing itself to succumb to the wrath of Mother Nature, Dubai has seen in climate change an opportunity for growth — in every sense of the word.
The first indication that times are a-changing: a shakeup of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s cabinet. In early 2016, Sheikh Mohammed appointed a Minister of Climate Change and Environment, a Minister of State for Happiness and a Minister of State for Youth Affairs, in addition to reappointing Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs, as Minister of the Future. A publicity stunt? Unlikely. All signs point to the city going full-steam ahead to become a leader in sustainability technologies.
Recently, Dubai opened a Museum of the Future, which speculates about what the city will look like in 2050. Technology lies at the heart of the Dubai of tomorrow, with innovations such as bio-desalination plants, flying cars and robot-operated vertical farms featuring prominently. While seemingly steeped in science-fiction, these advancements might not be far off.
Dubai is already developing into a cleantech protégée. One of the world’s largest renewable projects based on an independent power producer model, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, calls Dubai home. While capacity currently stands at 200-megawatts, the solar field will expand to 5,000 megawatts over the next decade with the ultimately goal of delivering 25 percent of the city’s electricity needs. Dubai’s Electricity and Water Authority is also hard at work, developing photovoltaic models that can stand up to harsh desert climates, as well as photovoltaic-driven reverse-osmosis systems that could help the city tackle its water scarcity issues.
But renewables aren’t the city’s only focus. Dubai is currently toying with the idea of building an Hyperloop transport system connecting to Abu Dhabi and plans to expand its network of autonomous transport options (the city built the region’s first driverless metro system in 2009) by 2030, with drone transport potentially joining the metropolis’s people-moving portfolio.
The City of Gold has also been turning its attentions towards the last frontier. Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre has recently been beefing up activity, with scientists working to design and develop a new set of satellites that will continue monitoring the changing region. But the city also has bigger things on the brain: by 2020, the Space Center intends to launch a probe to measure and map Mars’ atmosphere.
Built on a model of rapid growth, industrialization and dreams, it is unlikely that Dubai will allow itself to crash and burn in the face of climate change. Tapping into its expansive talent pool and entrepreneurial spirit, as well as embracing the idea of an inclusive future, the city is well-poised to assume the position as a global leader in sustainable technology and solutions.