Oil-rich UAE Unveiling New Identity via Green Tech Festival

A country better known for spectacular high-rise skylines and breathtaking structures symbolising its oil-based economic success, the UAE is now opening up to environmental challenges. The seven emirates (principalities) that make up the country of 9.2 million have seen unprecedented growth in infrastructure and real estate to accommodate an increasing number of tourists, businesses and expatriates but until now, less attention has been paid to the potential environmental costs.

Fortunately, the Sheikhs of the UAE realise the pressing need to have a low carbon footprint across a desert land that’s already devoid of much in the way of greenery, never mind natural forests. The Emirates, which pull in a remarkable $390bn approximately in GDP despite the land’s small population, are now preparing for a month-long Green Technology Festival, scheduled for March 2014, showcasing ways to “live, learn and have fun in a low-carbon world”. Green initiatives will run simultaneously across all government sectors ranging from tourism, social and education to commercial, energy, infrastructure, real estate, automobile and the technology industry.

Private businesses in the tourism industry are already striving for sustainable development and are seeking competitive advantages when millions of tourists land in the UAE to attend the Green Festival.

“Hotels are leading the way in applying environmental principles to their business strategies,” says a Dubai resident. “We have already seen experiments with green-themed food menus, shopping and fitness. Salespeople at the local shopping stores say they notice a considerable shift in customer priorities every time they advertise and offer extra discounts on green products, but customer habits don’t change a lot otherwise.”

These habits are evident in attitudes to cars and everyday life.

“Natural gas is the primary source of energy in the UAE. Electricity is affordable and available in abundance, so there’s less regard for energy conservation and green power generation projects. Gas-guzzling SUVs are the most popular vehicles in the UAE. Wannabe environmentalists drive hybrid cars, SUVs again, but mostly for fashion.”

However, the UAE has recently been attempting to reduce its economic dependence on oil and to make more use of alternative, sustainable energy sources. The government hopes to raise awareness about the growing environmental concerns surrounding large-scale urbanisation and over fuel and energy conservation. The Green Festival will be a platform for young tech startups to display technologies and propose innovative ideas to foreign and local investors attending the Festival.

The ruling authorities of Dubai are aiming for the top 10 spot among the world’s leading sustainable cities through initiatives such as solar-powered street lighting and they hope to bring on board private tech companies and local talent in pursuing this goal. It will take long enough for local citizens to adapt their lifestyles in favour of a green ecosystem, however.

“It will be a long term process,” said one resident. “But the Arabs are always fascinated by new and trendy technologies, gadgets and appliances that enhance convenience and green technology can function as a catalyst and a motivator for UAE residents to adapt to an environmentally-friendly lifestyle.”

The Green Auto Show will be a prominent event of the Festival, intended to allure UAE’s petrol-heads toward eco-friendly vehicles. The world’s top automotive manufacturers will showcase latest eco-friendly concept and production cars, along with other automotive technologies to draw interest from a customer-base keener on horsepower than on fuel efficiency.

Urbanism is a way of life in the UAE but the country hasn’t joined the ranks of the smoggiest urban centres of the world. UAE cities are only “moderately polluted” compared to mega-cities Mexico City in Mexico, Santiago in Chile and Karachi in Pakistan, according to a research study by the American University of Sharjah. However, toxins in urban smog are a cause for concern.

The Green Festival is at least, an indication that the UAE’s rulers have linked the two phenomena – urbanism and environmentalism – in hopes to achieve long-lasting economic success and a reputation for sustainable without compromising the needs of future generations.


Ali Raza is a business and technology consultant who covers consumer and enterprise technology issues for US and international publications. As a racing driver and a stunt master, only cars eclipse his love for technology.


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Ali Raza

Ali Raza is a business and technology consultant who covers consumer and enterprise technology issues for US and international publications. As a racing driver and a stunt master, only cars eclipse his love for technology.

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