Dubai, Abu Dhabi lead the way on sustainability agenda in Middle East

Dubai and Abu Dhabi have emerged as the two most sustainable cities in the Middle East region, according to the 2016 Sustainable Cities Index from Arcadis, the leading global Design & Consultancy for natural and built assets.

The study was compiled for Arcadis by the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr) and explores three core pillars of sustainability – social (people), environmental (planet) and economic (profit) to develop an indicative ranking of 100 of the world’s leading cities. The overall index is informed through an analysis of 32 different indicators and is also broken down into three sub-indices across each pillar.

Dubai ranked first out of the eight Middle East cities covered in this year’s report and 52nd overall. The city scored exceptionally well on the profit indicators finishing in fourth place globally, well ahead of other major business hubs like New York, Paris and Tokyo. It also performed well from a social perspective although fared less well on the environmental side, finishing 7th in the region and 96thglobally. The picture in Abu Dhabi was equally positive with the city finishing second overall in the region and 58th globally. It scores very well on economic sustainability too but faces similar challenges around its environmental performance.

Ben Khan, Client Development Director, Arcadis Middle East said: “It’s no surprise to see Dubai and Abu Dhabi perform so well as both cities have well-planned strategies around how they want to develop. The 2021 Dubai Plan has a clear goal to become the most business-friendly city in the world and this is being supported through continued investment in the city’s infrastructure. Similarly, in Abu Dhabi, we have the Complete Sustainable Communities initiative that was set up by the Urban Planning Council, which is focused on creating a better-connected, safer and greener city that provides a better quality of life.”

“Energy consumption and carbon emissions do remain high in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, largely due to the climate, volume of development, and the traditional reliance on fossil fuels. This is an area that both cities are actively looking to address though and it forms a key part of the UAE’s Vision 2021. The focus on improving the energy efficiency of buildings through rating systems like Estidama and Al Safat will help, as will planned investment in upgrading the water and transport networks in both cities,” added Khan.

Significant variation in sustainability performance of many GCC cities

This year’s report highlights that cities within the Middle East are living at extremes and many exhibit divided personalities, scoring particularly well in some areas but poorly in others. This is most apparent in the profit sub-index where cities are placed as far apart as 4th (Dubai) and 97th (Amman) globally.

These extremes are also notable at an individual city level with clear differences across the three sustainability pillars. As an example, Muscat places in the top ten globally on the people sub-index but ranks 85th in the world for economic sustainability. Similarly, Amman scores lowest in the region for profit (97th globally) and people (71st globally) but it leads the region on planet (55thglobally). Where there is a degree of consistency for all Middle East cities, is around low environmental sustainability scores. This is an area where both Dubai and Abu Dhabi struggle and it ultimately down their overall performance.

John Batten, Global Cities Director at Arcadis said: “Our index shows that all cities around the world face their own urban challenges and none of them can yet claim to have earned the title of being a completely sustainable city. Understanding the interplay between the physical, social and economic systems can help a city to achieve a more effective balance and a stronger sustainability performance.”

Cities in the Middle East have younger populations on average

All of the cities in the Middle East have comparatively young populations compared with other parts of the world. Doha has the highest median age in the region (35.6 years) whilst Amman is the youngest (23.1 years). This should hold these cities in good stead in the future as a significant portion of citizens will remain in the labour force for longer, enabling faster growth than can be achieved in older economies.

This year’s report recognizes that all cities in the study are at various stages of evolution, some further along their sustainability journey than others. Established European cities lead this year’s index, occupying 16 of the top 20 places, however they enjoy a clear advantage due to a more moderate climate and an economically balanced population. Developing cities in other regions contend with more extreme climates and rapid urbanization, whilst a lack of financial resource continues to inhibit their overall performance.