The Sustainable Cities Index

Sougata Nandi’s work over 17 years has helped reduce carbon emissions in excess of more than 200,000 tonnes. An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, he has implemented numerous energy and water conservation projects across the UAE and his work has won him and his organisations several awards in recent years, including the prestigious Emirates Energy Award multiple times.Sougata Nandi

People-planet-profit, economy-environment-society, triple-bottom-line - different terminologies, same ideas. In the context of the UAE, almost everything that revolves around real estate and infrastructure are key driving forces of the economy and create the biggest impact, positive or negative, on the UAE’S triple-bottom-line.

The UAE has launched several initiatives over the past ten years to promote Sustainable development. These range from Masdar, which started off as a zero-carbon city, and Estidama certification for all buildings under development, to the 100-megawatt (MW) Shams solar power project — all in Abu Dhabi.

In Dubai, the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy is spearheading several carbon footprint reduction initiatives such as the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy 2030, energy-conservation projects for government buildings and the 200MW Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, to name a few initiatives.

All the above initiatives are mainly focused on reducing carbon footprint by lowering the consumption of fossil fuels, and thereby reducing the harmful effect on the environment. Dubai has recently also launched Dubai Plan 2021 that embodies what Dubai aspires to be by 2021, focusing on six areas — place, people, society, experience, government and economy.

If one adds Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy (DIES) 2030 to Dubai Plan 2021, it is clear that, between these two aspirations, the triple-bottom-line areas are all effectively targeted and tackled. An individual key performance indicator will track the progress made over a period of time. There are timelines attached to both over-arching strategies, core teams created and each tasked with responsibilities. The entire framework or structure is created to manage its triple-bottom-line aspirations.

The Arcadis report

This is where the first Arcadis’ report comes in handy. The Sustainable Cities Index of Arcadis provides an internationally harmonised framework to measure sustainability across a broad spectrum of global cities. Therefore, while Dubai’s initiatives will have its own flavour and impetus, the results of the same can be captured under the Sustainable Cities Index’s harmonised measurement metric, enabling Dubai to be ranked among the top global cities, with a view to identify opportunity areas and measure progress made.

The purpose of the index is “not to create a hierarchy of elite cities, but to indicate areas of opportunity” in their individual journeys towards becoming more and more sustainable. This implies that while Dubai is ranked 33 among the top 50 global cities in the first report, the focus should be more on the areas where Dubai has opportunity to improve and evaluate whether it is making progress towards its own ambitions and as per what timelines.

People, planet and profit

The Sustainable Cities Index comprises three sub-indices: people, planet and profit. The people sub-index measures social performance, including quality of life, health, education, transport and work-life balance. The planet sub-index measures environmental performance in terms of energy emissions and pollution, covering aspects such as energy consumption, recycling rates, air pollution, drinking-water quality and natural disaster propensity, among several other factors. The Profit sub-index measures business environment and economic performance.

Rating system

Cities are first rated or measured on each sub-index, subsequent to which their overall performance is compiled. Thus, it is quite possible for a city to score high on a particular sub-index and low on the other. This means that although a city could be performing poorly on, say, the planet sub-index, it’s excellent performance on another sub-index could raise it’s overall ranking.

In the case of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, this is precisely what has happened for them to secure the 33rd and 34th places among the top 50 in the Global Sustainable Cities Index. Dubai and Abu Dha-bi’s rank in the people, planet and profit sub-indices are 26th and 25th, 47th and 44th and 27th and 34th respectively. Therefore, their excellent performance on the People and Profit sub-indices have by and large ameliorated the lower performance on the planet sub-index.

Areas that need to be brought under top priority in both cities are work-life balance and green spaces.

Environment issues

Given the rapid grxowth both cities have witnessed in the past 15 years, it was but natural that environment-related issues were not placed on top priority. Now having achieved economic growth, the two emirates are now focusing on the environment through various initiatives such as Estidama and DIES 2030.

However, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have performed much better than several cities on drinking water and sanitation. Energy use and renewables mix, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste management are areas where much more needs to be done for Abu Dhabi and Dubai to improve their planet sub-index assessment.

The relatively high rank of Dubai in the profit subindex is fairly obvious given the recent successful initiatives by the government and the excellent performance of the private sector in several areas. These include a growing global network (Emirates Airline has rapidly positioned Dubai as a global hub) and the ease of doing business and transport infrastructure (the progress made by Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority in recent years).

Within the same sub-index, Dubai has opportunity to improve its performance significantly in areas such as energy efficiency, economic development and cost of doing business.

With all the initiatives launched in recent times in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, it is natural to expect that subsequent assessments under the Sustainable Cities Index will find remarkable improvements in the scores of both cities. Focus should always remain on a particular global city’s continually improving performance, whether we call it people-planet-profit or economy-environment-society.



Source: Sougata Nandi, Special to Property Weekly


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