Abu Dhabi takes on the Germans

How oil money is helping Gulf nations earn ecological credentials

Gary Wright
Gary Wright

One of the good things about being a country ‘floating on oil’ and receiving huge amounts of foreign currency every day, is that the leaders can do whatever they want to do, within reason.

For the rest of the world the way that cash was spent has been a source of wonderment (and occasionally envy) since the 1970s. From the private jet travel to limousines parked outside Harrod’s or the purchase of top sporting clubs right through to the way the oil nations have transformed the face of architecture: the Arab leaders imagined it and they made it happen.

It has undoubtedly been an exciting time and as these nations have matured and worked through their own domestic arrangements, whether that is trouble with their neighbours or sometimes their own people , the rest of the world has changed too.

Saving the planet remains important and everyone in all areas of business is keen to demonstrate their ‘green’ credentials, whether true or imagined.

The ‘green’ movement got going in Europe just over 20 years ago.

Once the preserve of vegetarians who rode bicycles and knitted their own jumpers, many people did get a 'green' conscience for a while in the early nineties. But the majority quietly dropped it when they discovered it often meant more cost and more effort.

So, it remained the preserve of those earnest vegetarians… and the Germans of course. Newly unified, the country embraced recycling and the wind turbine as their elected green politicians set about teaching the rest of Europe how to recycle and look after the planet (The Dutch loved their bicycles long before they knew the ozone layer existed so they don't count).

Across the Atlantic most Americans of course took practically no notice. They’d had a little fling with economy cars and the like in the early 1970s and too many people had been burned by the experience of owning an AMC Pacer.
This new fangled green politics smelt a little too much of change and giving up stuff.

So, fast forward to 2013 - post Al Gore, post wind turbines being proven not quite as ecologically sound or economic as the zealots suggested – and it is something of a surprise that it is the Gulf nations that are setting the ‘green’ agenda.

From solar energy to insulation, the Gulf has some of the most ecologically sound buildings being constructed and its diverse energy policies and future commitment belie the region’s vast oil wealth.

This week Dr Sami Mahroum, of the Istead Business School in Abu Dhabi, said that the UAE should have mandatory green building standards and government support. He is determined to change government’s attitudes to construction and argues it brings a beneficial growth in productivity.

Don’t ignore him, he’s is reporting to the government, so his green buildings idea may catch on.

The real irony is that in 2013 it is the oil-rich nations who have fed a greedy world’s oil appetite for half a century that are now set to become world leaders in genuine green technology.

The world really has changed - whatever next, Dutch-style cycle lanes in Abu Dhabi?

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