ABU DHABI (AFP) — Global conservation group WWF on Wednesday backed the oil-rich United Arab Emirates' plan to build the world's first zero-carbon emissions city and a futuristic solar-powered electricity plant.
"It's the only major oil-producing country that has decided to use some of its petrodollars while it still has them to invest in trying to create a future which could be sustainable," WWF International's One Living Planet director Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud told reporters in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi.
One of seven Gulf emirates that makes up the UAE, Abu Dhabi will next month begin construction of Masdar City, which developers say will house 50,000 people in a car-free environment that leaves no carbon footprint.
The city will be run entirely on renewable energy including solar power, exploiting the desert emirate's near constant supply of sunshine. Residents will also be able to move around in automated pods.
The pioneering project, which is part of the wider Masdar Initiative launched by the wealthy Abu Dhabi government in 2006, is being created in collaboration with the WWF.
The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahayan, pledged 15 billion dollars (10 billion euros) to the Masdar scheme at the opening of the three-day World Future Energy Summit in the capital on Monday.
"If all the forces that are assembled to try to make Masdar a success actually achieve what they're aiming for, then we will no longer have any excuse anywhere in the world not to do the right thing," Jeanrenaud said at a news conference on the summit's sidelines.
Project chief executive Sultan al-Jaber described Masdar -- Arabic for "source" -- as as an entirely new economic sector fully dedicated to alternative energy, which will have a positive impact on the emirate's economy.
Masdar has announced plans to build a 350-million-dollar (240-million-euro) 100-megawatt solar plant, which will later be boosted to 500 megawatts to help ease peak-time pressure on the national grid.
It is also founding a university for future energy studies in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Abu Dhabi government is "providing a fantastic laboratory for the rest of the world to see what works and what doesn't work," Jeanrenaud said.
"They're taking it (alternative energy) seriously enough to invest something like 15 billion dollars," he added.
Abu Dhabi sits on most of the UAE's oil and gas reserves -- ranked fifth and fourth respectively in the world. Proven oil reserves on their own are expected to last for another 150 years.
But like most oil-producing countries, the UAE wants to diversify to ease its traditional economic reliance on oil.
The UAE has the world's largest ecological footprint, meaning it consumes the most natural resources per capita, according to a 2004 WWF report that measures the environmental sustainability of a state.
Despite the UAE's constant access to sunshine, only parking meters routinely use solar energy as a power source. Even solar water-heaters -- popular in several hot-climate countries -- are seldom seen.
But Jeanrenaud said the state should still be commended for trying to reduce its ecological impact.
"It's not what they haven't done up to now, it's what they're going to do now" that is exciting, he said.
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