Green Dubai? I don't buy it
With one of the highest carbon footprints in the world, Dubai is severely at odds with its image
Dubai has gone green? So they say. The world capital of unsustainable development, as I characterised it in May 2007, now professes to have embraced a more environmentally sensitive agenda, in line with a resolution by its ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum – or “Sheikh Mo”, as he’s known locally.
The “Green Dubai” programme, announced in October 2007, preceded oil-rich Abu Dhabi’s bailout of of its brother emirate in December 2009, when it forked out $10 billion (€7.73 billion) to help pay off Dubai’s debts after the overheated property market collapsed.
Since the first Green Dubai World Forum in 2008, all new buildings in Dubai must comply with international “green” specifications on water, electricity consumption and the use of renewable energy. But by then hundreds of skyscrapers had already been built.
Dubai has one of the world’s highest per capita carbon footprints – not surprising when you consider all the airconditioning, chilling and refrigeration needed to ward off scorching temperatures of 50 degrees in summer.
Or take the sprawling desalination complex to the south of the city, which turns huge quantities of sea water into the potable variety at a cost of €4 per cubic metre. Every green space in Dubai has a sprinkler system, though we’re assured that, thanks to Sheikh Mohammed, it’s all “grey water” now.
Architects have had a field day in the emirate, designing tall buildings in nearly every shape imaginable, as if they were playing SimCity. The skyline is congested with them, especially in the downtown area and in Marina City, which boasts eight of the 10 tallest residential towers in the world, with The Torch (79 storeys) as number one.
Looking up at the Burj Khalifa (Burj means “tower” in Arabic), the soaring structure – nearly seven times taller than Dublin’s Spire – is awe-inspiring and surreal. The building spirals and tapers to a spindle as it rises. There’s a restrained elegance about it. Inside are a 300-room Armani hotel, 900 apartments, corporate offices, two swimming pools, 57 high-speed lifts (travelling at a swift 18 metres per second) and possibly the world’s highest nightclub on the 144th floor.
Developed by Emaar, Dubai’s biggest property company, the Burj cost nearly €1.15 billion to construct. According to a Human Rights Watch report, the 7,500 migrant workers who built it were paid poorly, housed in abysmal conditions and had their passports “held for safe-keeping” while they toiled daily in the searing heat.
In the year before the building opened, Armani Residences were being pre-sold for more than €28,800 per sq m, while office space was fetching nearly €33,000 per sq m. Then the bubble burst, values fell by 40 per cent, and the apartments have been offloaded slowly, at reduced prices. A 75 sq m studio can still be had for €252,680.
Five years ago, Dubai’s most-hyped scheme was The World – dozens of islands of various shapes and sizes, manufactured from sand dredged up from the Persian Gulf and loosely arranged to mimic the atlas. The brainchild of the property company Nakheel, it was the hottest ticket in town.
There were rumours that Rod Stewart had bought or was going to buy “Britain”, but Nakheel insisted at the time it had been sold to Richard Branson, who was said to be planning to build a holiday resort there for Virgin Upper Class passengers. This has not materialised.