United Arab Emirates: Green Gulf – A sustainable future for the Middle East - What Europe and the Middle East Can Learn From Each Other When Building a Green Economy
Last Updated: 5 November 2010

Governments across the world have stressed in recent months that global economic recovery must be rooted in developing sustainable and environmentally friendly business and economic practices. United by the common goal of a greener economy, countries face different, yet interlinked, region-specific challenges. Energy has historically been a key concern for Europe and North America, but oil-rich regions such as the Middle East also face significant environmental challenges, with water shortages being the prime example.  As the green agenda gathers pace, what can Europe and the Middle East learn from each other?

On 2 November, international law firm Taylor Wessing’s Dubai office in collaboration with the UK sustainability team hosted a panel discussion on the outlook for sustainability in the Middle East in the wider international context. The seminar was attended by over 100 delegates and speakers included academics, government representatives and industry leaders.

Helen Garthwaite, head of the UK Construction and Engineering team at Taylor Wessing and leader of the firm’s Sustainability Initiative, considers the key issues highlighted during the seminar:

Sustainability: a core issue for the Middle East

"From a European perspective, the Middle East is often viewed as a ‘black gold mine’ for the fossil fuels we rely on so heavily. It is easy to assume that sustainability is likely to fall by the wayside in a cash and oil-rich region where real estate development is happening at such a fast pace. However, the energy-rich area suffers from a dearth of potable water, posing very different but no less real environmental and sustainability challenges acknowledged by policymakers and businesses.Water conservation and solar technology are examples of where the region has know-how to exploit to business advantage. "

Green benchmarking

"A greener economy and built environment cannot be achieved without the metrics against which to measure performance and set realistic progress targets.. The establishment of the Pearl sustainability rating system in Abu Dhabi demonstrates that benchmarking is already a focus area in the Middle East. However, the next challenge for the region and the world will be to develop a functioning global comparative benchmarking system that can help improve communication and avoid confusion due to a plethora of indices, benchmarks and standards developed and used in different jurisdictions."

Regulation:a two-way learning process

"European governments are starting to put increasingly onerous regulatory requirements on the business sector, as evidenced by the development of the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme in the UK which will now place a financial as well as administrative burden on businesses. Middle Eastern regulatory regimes are still in their infancy but are developing quickly and the region could, in fact, leapfrog Europe in the development of green regulatory frameworks. Starting from a comparatively clean slate, the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the region could offer a more practical system that incorporates best practice from across the world without the need to work with existing, sometimes conflicting, unclear or out-of-date, legislation. What can European and Middle Eastern policy-makers and industry leaders learn from the different regions’ experiences?"

Globalisation: a sustainability driver

"Sustainability is a cross-border priority in today’s world and discerning international consumers play a major role in promoting sustainability in the Middle East. Global corporations that have committed to greener business practices in their home countries and international commercial operations bring a renewed focus on green issues to the Gulf. On a grass-roots level, the region’s large expatriate community represents a section of savvy consumers attracted by an enhanced quality of environment and with an increasing awareness of sustainability issues.

Green retrofit: an international investment challenge

"Green retrofit will be a key challenge facing both Europe and the Middle East in the coming years. Whilst in Europe, greening existing buildings takes on particular importance if government sustainable targets are to be met and in post-recessionary times when finance for new projects is scarce, the Middle East has also to consider the issue of ‘ghost buildings’; incomplete projects that were initiated before the economic crisis hit and ran into financial difficulties during the recession. Often the original design for these buildings is no longer compliant with the region’s fast-evolving regulatory framework on sustainability and changes will be required in order for projects to complete and meet likely greener consumer demand in the region."

Speakers at the "Green Gulf – Sustainability in the Middle East’ seminar included, Helen Garthwaite, head of UK Construction and Engineering at Taylor Wessing, Mark Fraser, Partner and head of Construction and Dispute Resolution at Taylor Wessing (Middle East), Matthew Plumbridge representing the Abu Dhabi Department of Municipal Affairs, Juergen Beigel, Ambassador for Sustainability at Masdar, Emily Hust of environmental consultancy WSP, Dr Ben Hughes of Heriot Watt University and Alan Paterson, head of planning at ALDAR PJSC.

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