GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK
With a deep dedication to sustainability, Sharjah continues to protect its natural heritage through the foundation of wildlife parks and education centers.
Previously the Ministry of Environment and Water, the newly christened Ministry of Climate Change and Environment is the UAE's environmental oversight body. The new name reflects a redoubled commitment to creatively and effectively addressing the challenges of climate change. Sharjah's position as an environmental leader puts it at the forefront of this movement. World Environment Day was celebrated in 2016 with two days worth of “Go Wild for Life"-themed events and seminars, during which His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, was unequivocal in his support of the environment.
Protecting environmental heritage
Key among Sharjah's steps towards environmental conservation was the establishment of the Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) in 1998. The EPAA is tasked with developing and implementing reasonable and holistic plans aimed at preserving, strengthening, and reimagining Sharjah's natural landscapes and environmental resources. With almost 4.6% of the total land area of Sharjah under its protection, the EPAA has designated nine distinct ecosystems for preservation. Additionally, the EPAA operates nine different educational centers dedicated to teaching the public about Sharjah's natural treasures. Included in these initiatives are a number of desert park centers, the Al Hefaiyah Mountain Conservation Center, the Sharjah Cat & Dog Center, the Kalba Bird of Prey Center, and the Wasit Wetland Center.
The EPAA has also committed serious resources to protecting some of Sharjah's most vulnerable animals. The authority has set aside habitat for threatened species like the Arabian Leopard and the Arabian Cobra. Currently, sanctuaries in Sharjah protect over 25,000 animals across more than 250 species. Construction has begun on the Breeding Center for Predatory and Dangerous Animals, a sanctuary for, among other things, lions and tigers and snakes that covers more than 27,000sqm in the Desert Park. The Al Hefaiyah Mountain Conservation Center alone protects more than 30 endangered species.
Though a young industry, eco-tourism in Sharjah is already showing promise. Two of the most important projects are the Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-tourism Project, the first phase of which opened in early 2016, and the Kalba Park Project. According to the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, in coming years the Mleiha project is expected to generate USD69 million in new investments while simultaneously stimulating the local economy. The Kalba project includes public outdoor areas, a botanical garden, animal conservation centers, and a five-star hotel, among other amenities. The Wasit Wetland Center was also developed with tourists partially in mind, and the center hosts 150 species of birds in its 4.5sqkm reserve. The cafe, gift shop, and education center are all designed to entice local and foreign tourists to visit the center and learn about Sharjah's natural heritage. Environmentally friendly vehicles ferry visitors to watchtowers across the reserve.
The Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) also plays an important role in protecting Sharjah's environment. Through its capacity as Sharjah's official utility distributor, SEWA has spearheaded a number of projects aimed at encouraging responsible energy consumption. Most recently, SEWA unveiled its new “One Saving Hour Initiative," a multi-pronged plan focused on energy education and consumption reduction. Additionally, progress continues to be made on Sharjah's smart-grid system, a project started in 2015 between SEWA and Teleformer, an American smart energy solutions firm. According to SEWA 2020, the authority's five-year plan for corporate governance, responsible consumption will continue to be a central pillar of its business model. Among these goals is SEWA's Tarsheed Initiative, which aims to reduce overall energy and water consumption by 30% through awareness and education programs; its partnership with the waste management firm Bee'ah, which helps foster a zero waste corporate culture; and its conversion of more than 200 company vehicles to compressed natural gas.
Turning waste into jobs
Sharjah is a regional pioneer in waste management. The most accomplished and innovative firm in this sector is Bee'ah, a waste management company founded by royal decree in 2007. Originally founded as a public-private partnership between the government of Sharjah and the Sharjah City Municipality, Bee'ah is on the forefront of sustainable waste management, including the design and implementation of education programs and infrastructure projects. Bee'ah currently collects more than 2.3 million tons of waste from almost 1 million homes. Boasting a material recovery facility that is the largest in the Middle East—and includes a tire processing center, a construction waste facility, oil treatment stations, and a car shredder, among other things—Bee'ah has the capacity to process 500,000 tons of recyclables a year. Bee'ah efforts have, in less than a decade, transformed Sharjah into one of the most environmentally friendly Emirates. Bee'ah's reach, however, is not limited to Sharjah. In an exclusive interview with TBY, Khaled Al Huraimel, Group CEO of Bee'ah, discussed the company's recent growth and its plans for the future. “We expanded outside of Sharjah in 2015 and won many major contracts in Dubai, such as the Burj Khalifa, World Trade Center, and TECOM Media City. We are also managing Dubai Marina Mall, and are contenders for numerous large international contracts that came about last year," said Huraimel.
Nor is Bee'ah focused solely on waste management. It has initiated projects occupied with monitoring and improving air quality in Sharjah and the UAE and implemented a project focused on cleaning Sharjah's waterways. “We want to make Sharjah the green capital of the Middle East," said Huraimel. In 2016, Bee'ah partnered with Masdar, a Dubai-based energy company, to help reach the UAE's goal of diverting 75% of landfill waste to more environmentally sound facilities by 2021.
While it has a long history of traditional energies, Sharjah is also richly endowed with investment opportunities in renewable energies. The Sharjah Investment and Development Authority estimates that Sharjah's environment-oriented market will be worth AED1.13 billion by 2020, and it has identified water desalination, solar energy-generation plants, solar heating and cooling, and public lighting as the most promising areas for investment. With an estimated market potential of AED183 billion in the UAE alone, renewable energies are a cornerstone of Sharjah's energy strategy. As part of its 2020 Alternative and Sustainable Energy Plan, the federal government hopes to stimulate AED367 billion (roughly USD100 billion) of investment in alternative and sustainable ventures.
Making it Green
The Emirates Green Building Council (EmiratesGBC) is an organization focused on expanding green construction practices. Since its foundation in 2006, the EmiratesGBC has worked to ensure that builders throughout the UAE implement procedures and principles that protect the environment and preserve the UAE's natural heritage. To this end, the EmiratesGBC has successfully engineered a dramatic reduction in the environmental footprint of the UAE; in 2003, the Living Planet Report (LPR) identified the UAE as the nation with the highest per capita ecological footprint in the world, but, thanks to serious public and private efforts, by 2014 the UAE had reduced its footprint per capita by nearly half and dropped two places on the list. Since 2010, the UAE's Green Building Code has reduced energy usage by 43%, water usage by 15%, and it is estimated that CO2 emissions will be cut by 30% by 2030. In an exclusive interview with TBY, Saeed Al Abbar, Chairman of the EmiratesGBC, discussed Sharjah's role in green building. “In Sharjah, the authorities are implementing building regulations and making sure the developments are taking place in line with these objectives," said Abbar. “Sharjah has the right policies in place and is continuing to strive toward its objective of being green."
Sustained economic and population growth has spurred a green construction renaissance in Sharjah. As a leader in the UAE's campaign to develop sustainably, Sharjah has tried to emphasize not only sustainable construction practices but sustainable construction outcomes as well. Accordingly, when many of the new projects across the emirate are completed they will include expansive green spaces. Developments like Al Zahia, a joint venture between Majid Al Futtaim and the Sharjah government, which integrates green spaces and incentivizes and encourages walking and other environmentally friendly modes of transportation and recreation, will be the new normal in the Emirate. With the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority estimating that there is at least AED1 billion worth of green building demand in the residential construction sector alone, developers are exploring ways to profit in responsible and sustainable ways.
Interest is also growing in Nearly-Zero-Energy (NZE) buildings, sites where consumption needs are met entirely by renewable energies. As Sharjah and the UAE continue to reduce their carbon footprints, NZE buildings are a natural next step. Though design and construction can be complex and expensive, Sharjah's commitment to renewable energies means that NZE buildings are likely to be an important piece in the future of construction in the emirate. When discussing the future of NZE Saeed Al Abbar stressed the need for gathering and weighing all relevant information. “First, we need to define what zero energy is and approach NZE to see what lessons we learn and build the market's capacity to deliver these buildings such that, with economies of scale, it becomes more feasible. It is a process that takes time but the discussion has already started."