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Emirates to build zero-carbon desert city

Plans and models for an ambitious zero-carbon city to be built in the desert were unveiled at this week’s Future Energy Summit held in Abu Dhabi.

Foster + Partners has drawn up a master plan for Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates, designed to produce zero carbon emissions, zero waste and to be car-free. It’s being built according to the ten sustainability guidelines called One Planet Living drawn up by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and environmental consultancy BioRegional. Guidelines for building include sustainable materials, sustainable food and water, support of habitats, wildlife, culture and heritage, and to promote equity, fair trade, health and happiness.

Whew! Electricity in the city will be generated by photovoltaic panels, with cooling also supplied via solar power, which shouldn’t be a problem for the UAE -- desert and blazing sun and all. In fact, last year, two German scientists calculated that covering just 0.5% of the world’s hot deserts with solar thermal plants would provide the world’s entire electricity needs. Let’s not forget about water -- just how are they pulling off that one, you might ask, being in the middle of a desert? The plan is to provide water by solar-powered desalination plants, and crops and vegetation will be irrigated by grey water and treated waste water. Cars won’t be welcome in the three-level city, which, according to The Register, will be connected up both by light railway and “personalized transport pods”  that run on tracks or magnetic discs.

Masdar City is laid out on six square kilometers and will eventually house up to 1,500 businesses and 50,000 residents. They’re due to break ground in February and the first residents could move there in late 2009, in typically speedy Emirates fashion (is anyone else still in awe of Dubai?). There’s little doubt that this is an ambitious project and the WWF’s backing lends the Abu Dhabi government some green kudos. However, Masdar City is a radical shift from the UAE’s current building projects like the Palm Island off Dubai, that fall far short of any sustainable standards. Masdar also admits that the OnePlanet guidelines it’s following will only be met in 2015 when the city is completely finished.

Critics of the scheme suggest that although the UAE is putting welcome investment and research into renewable energy, it needs to do more to put its own house in order -- it is still the world’s fifth largest oil exporter and emits the second highest greenhouses gases per capita in the world. We’re still trying to figure out how they can build a truly sustainable, working city on a heap of sand. (Smartplanet)