Environment: Sustainable Development in Abu Dhabi

Subject: Environment
Pages: 12
Words: 3236
Reading time:
12 min
Study level: College


Background of Research

It has become a great challenge for various governments to have sustainable development within urban areas. Abu Dhabi is the capital city of UAE and is one of the fastest developing cities in the world. Despite the speedy urban growth in Abu Dhabi, the difference in the interests of the involved parties and politicians foster a lack of collaboration between stakeholders and decision-makers for sustainable development. The creeping movement of the urban context has infringed upon those environment masses. Therefore, a strategy needs to outline the bylaws and tasks to be undertaken for the long-term sustainable development environment within the city of Abu Dhabi.

Sustainable development is a technical terminology that is dynamic since it encompasses development and growth in the friendliest manner. Across the world, little efforts have been accomplished toward sustainable development. The adequate management system of environmental research should be developed to ensure that the city of Abu Dhabi is well-positioned for future development projects (Pischke & Cashmore, 2006). Currently, there is a lack of a comprehensive database and record for the environmental indicators that meet international standards. Such information would enhance the decision-making process.

There is a need for a clear environmental legislative board and management strategy to guide sustainable development in Abu Dhabi Emirate. Furthermore, there is a need to systematically monitor, record, and investigate the built environment to collect data for the adapted environmental indicators, tailored environmental indicators in UAE that take in to account local context and social, economic factors. This is the rationale for the proposed research on sustainable development in the city of Abu Dhabi. The research will be based on the applicability of the Geographic Information System (GIS) as a tool in the management economic, political, social, environmental aspects of sustainable development within the city of Abu Dhabi. It was chosen as a helpful tool to lower the risk of failure in future sustainable development for the city of Abu Dhabi and the entire UAE.

Research Aims and Questions

The purpose of this research paper is to determine the importance of sustainable development and sustainability indicators for the UAE environment. This research demonstrates the integration between the sustainability of the environment, its indicators, and GIS analysis.

This research studies the environmental problems associated with urban development in Abu Dhabi. The aims of the research paper are to answers the following questions:

  1. What is sustainable development, and why does Abu Dhabi need environmental sustainability indicators?
  2. What are the environmental indicators currently used in Abu Dhabi to guide sustainable urban development, and how do you rank them?
  3. Are the current collections of use indicators in UAE reflecting the environmental need and aspiration for the built environment? If not, what are the relevant indicators, which should adapt to the UAE to achieve a sustainable built environment?
  4. Can environmentalists use GIS to monitor, record, and predict environmental sustainability and as a support system within the planning and institutional structure in UAE?

Literature Review

Sustainable Development

The term sustainable development is “maintenance of essential ecological processes and life support systems, the preservation of genetic diversity and the sustainable utilization of species and ecosystems (Pischke & Cashmore, 2006, p. 35). Sustainable development aims at promoting stable levels of employment emanating from a strong education, innovation, social, health, and environmental base. The above three factors represent the environmental, social, and economic fronts of sustainable development, respectively. There is consensus among proponents of sustainable development that the three dimensions form the most basic pillars of sustainable development, as discussed below.

The Environment

The natural environment is increasingly under pressure from human activity, presenting an enormous challenge to policymakers on the best way to meet the current human demands while minimizing the impact of human activities. To acknowledge the importance of the environment as the basis for sustainable development implementation, numerous steps need to take place to ensure the security of the living and physical environment that includes natural resources as well as processes and balances (Bina, 2007). Some of the steps already being taken to secure the environment and promote sustainable development include controlling global warming, discharging harmful chemical wastes, and halting the loss of biodiversity within the city of Abu Dhabi.

The Economy

The economy plays a crucial role in sustainable development through equitable distribution of resources and wealth to ensure economic prosperity for all people living on the planet (Pischke & Cashmore, 2006). Successful application of economic policies that support sustainable development will easily ensure the eradication of poverty as well as positive economic growth, which will improve people’s standard of living while safeguarding the environment and scarce resources. Only economic development that bears the least adverse impact on the environment qualifies as sustainable development (Pischke & Cashmore, 2006). Bina (2007) agrees with the above assertion by stating that eco-efficiency is only possible through the careful and planned application of the economic tool supported by elements such as legislation and public awareness campaigns. More importantly, the economy can achieve sustainable development through supporting “green” investment ventures and increasing research into the activities that promote sustainable economic activities (Pischke & Cashmore, 2006).

The Social Aspect

The social component of sustainable development stresses the need to use the resources available responsibly while minimizing the degradation of our surroundings to ensure future generations benefit as well (Bina, 2007). The spirit behind the social component is selflessness that ensures the positive growth of the entire society. Achievement of sustainable development through the social component takes place through civil society work that primarily aims at solving various types of issues as well as participating in the decision-making processes.

In summary, sustainable development calls for the view of the entire universe as a method that links space and time. In terms of space, sustainable development stresses on the formulation of policies that curb all types of pollution since pollution at any part of the world affect air quality everywhere. In terms of time, sustainable development stresses the importance of making sound decisions that will ensure the conservation of natural resources for the current and next generations.

As mention earlier, urban areas are increasingly becoming the face of unsustainable development (Pischke & Cashmore, 2006). Policymakers in the built environment, such as urban centers, have drawn criticism for either complacency or utter ignorance in enforcing sustainable development policies. Sustainable urban development has come to denote the initiatives aimed at helping urban centers and other built environments overcome challenges that hinder the realization of sustainable development.

Sustainable Cities Development

According to Fischer (2007), cities have become the focal points of sustainable human development by being the primary points for consumer activities and distribution services (Fischer, 2007). As a result, they have become largely dependent on the surrounding areas for their survival. Expectedly, this situation permeates almost every aspect of cities around the world, especially those in developing countries, bringing challenges such as pollution, overpopulation, congestion, and food deficits. The above situation has led to the need for the pursuit of sustainable development (Pischke & Cashmore, 2006). Growth of per capita income, increase in automobile usage, energy consumption, and spatial planning based on the separation of land use function has resulted in a low density and spread land use for development, which is often referred to as urban sprawl (Bina, 2007).

Abu Dhabi Development

Abu Dhabi Emirate provides an interesting example of a city that has recently witnessed spectacular urban development. The past decades’ massive oil revenues allowed the country to embark on unprecedented national development. The built-up area of Abu Dhabi city increased from 8,992,391 m2 in 2000 to 11,658,596 m2 in 2010 (ADM, 2013), which is an increase of more than 22%. Abu Dhabi Emirate is expected to have massive population growth, and so it is important to focus on a sustainable path of city development to ensure a decent life for future generations.

Abu Dhabi is experiencing fast urbanization, and unplanned growth clubbed with an escalating gross domestic product (GDP) and fast growth in urban infrastructures. Abu Dhabi’s government has initiated many strategies for developing sustainable cities and communities. Sustainable development of the built environment has become a priority worldwide and is gradually becoming a national priority in UAE as well. Abu Dhabi has great oil reserves. In spite of the fact that its coastline is more than 400 kilometers, it has a dry ecology. The high development in Abu Dhabi is a result of increasing human requirements and infrastructure due to the increasing population (Pischke & Cashmore, 2006). An increase in the local population and the number of expatriates contribute towards the overall increasing population of the emirate.

GIS as a Technology Tool to Assist in Consolidated Practice

The geographical information system (GIS) has proven to be a technology of choice, which can be used to solve spatial problems in decision making. The use of GIS in decision making is made possible because the system uses the required hardware and software, which have data capturing capabilities to manage, analyze, and precisely display the captured geographical information. The systems are defined by statistical data analysis and management modules, three-dimensional spatial visualization capabilities, and risk assessment capabilities to provide effective data analysis capabilities for decision making. The entire process is aggregated into a decision support system (DSS), which underpins the performance of the geographical information system (GIS). Relevant data must be captured to enable the software to use its capabilities to analyze the data and generate relevant data in graphical form for decision making (Pischke & Cashmore, 2006).

The GIS system consists of software modules with decision-making capabilities, which have interactive capabilities. The right decisions can be made to solve the spatial problems, which are based on spatial decisions by the use of a large number of data with a large number of alternatives (Bina, 2007). GIS provides the basis for solving the spatial problem, which is complex and demands detailed analysis because of the level of a complex of the data, to avoid the use of poorly defined and semi-structured data. GIS can be used to solve spatial problems by using the spatial data, which have been identified and localized with specialized attributes. The attributes make the spatial solutions easy because they define the type and characteristics of the inputs, and are able to provide solutions to the current state using different layers. In addition, the output is in the form of charts, maps, and layers, and the application can be used to provide analytical data for future use (Pischke & Cashmore, 2006).

Methods and Data

Research Approach

The Delphi survey method will be used in this research. The Delphi survey is an approach that can be used to collect data from experts to lead to a group decision. The Delphi survey is a technique to extract opinions from experts without requiring them to have a scheduled meeting (Pischke & Cashmore, 2006). Delphi relies on problem-solving approaches, which relate to assessment, comprehension, and evaluation. Participants can join the process at any phase. Thus, it reduces constraints on contributors.

Identification of Participants

There are different opinions in the ideal number of participants in the Delphi technique. The target for the Delphi survey has been set for 50 stakeholders concerned with sustainable development in Abu Dhabi. The participants in this research questionnaire are directly relevant to water, energy, and solid waste issues in Abu Dhabi or UAE in general. At the same time, to achieve integrating of the environmental management system, it is important to engage the public in the decision making since engaging them with key city policy and planning decisions can enhance the overall performance, based on that the selection of five participant forms public has been planned. The following have been eligible to engage in the research survey:

  • Decision-makers of selected sectors (Energy, Water, Waste) in Abu Dhabi Emirate.
  • Experts of sustainability in the selected sectors, who would be advising the Abu Dhabi authorities.
  • Scholars with relevance record in sustainable urban development.
  • Other professionals who work in the field of sustainable urban development.
  • The general public is directly relevant to the selected sectors.


In this study, the application of the Delphi technique has been used to validate the indicator and its framework. The survey questions were sent to the participant via email. Invitations for participation were sent to participants in the form of an email message providing information about the project, consent form, and the survey itself. The participants were requested to complete and return the survey by email within two weeks. In the cases where there were no sufficient responses from experts and decision-makers, the survey was conducted via Skype for those who had fifteen minutes to spare for the research. The sample selection was made through random sampling within the Abu Dhabi Municipality.

Ethical Consideration

All information that participants give will be treated with the utmost confidence, and all identifiable features of the data will be coded. All emails sent to participants will be separated so that respondents cannot be identified by their true identity. Only the researcher will have access to the primary data collected. All information will be stored in protected computer files. The research will ensure that each respondent gets a consent letter describing the scope of the study, expected risks, duration, and permission to participate.

Data Acquisition

The data collected will cover all aspects of sustainable development in Abu Dhabi. Indicators with the spatial referee will be classified from each index. Further information for each indicator will be collected from different departments and agencies in Abu Dhabi Emirate, such as Abu Dhabi Municipality, Environmental Agency, Water and Electricity Authority, and Transportation department.

Finding and Analysis

The response rate was recorded at100% since all the respondents managed to fill the questionnaires and email them back within the timeline of two weeks, as summarised in the table below.

Respondent Number Percentage (%)
Male respondents 40 80
Female respondents 10 20
Total 200 100

(Respondent groups: Self-generated)

Stakeholders Number Percentage (%)
Decision makers of selected sectors (Energy, Water, Waste) 10 20%
Consultancy experts of sustainability in the selected sectors (Energy, Water, Waste) 10 20%
Scholars with relevance record in sustainable urban development in energy, water, and waste management 10 20%
Other professionals who work in the field of sustainable urban development 10 20%
General public who are directly relevant to the selected sectors (Energy, Water, Waste) 10 20%

(Response rate by stakeholders’ specialization: Self-generated)

Sustainable development indicators Percentage ranking Rank
Environment 40% 1stPosition
Economy 30% 2ndPosition
Social aspect 30% 2ndPosition

(Sustainable indicators identified by the respondents: Self-generated)


Sustainable development indicators might be one of the solutions for controlling the assault on the environment. Since there is no agreement on a definition of sustainable development, the main themes of Abu Dhabi’s sustainability vary from one place to another, and their focus on environmental issues. However, the key themes listed by the respondents as areas that determine sustainable development in Abu Dhabi include water, energy, solid waste, energy, green area, transportation, air quality, and noise management, as illustrated in the diagram below. The respondents noted that Abu Dhabi should set priorities within the development indicators. Therefore, the discussion is focused on the understanding of the respondents on Abu Dhabi’s priorities on energy, water, and solid waste in terms of sustainability, as discussed in the subsequent section.

Energy, Water, Air, Noise, Waste, Transportation, Green Areas

As indicated by the respondents, fast urban growth means that Abu Dhabi is in a constant state of transition. The fast development of Abu Dhabi is connected with rapid sprawl development, marked by large scale skyscraper buildings and varied developments with high consumption patterns (Pischke & Cashmore, 2006). The unplanned growth in the building and city development has created a pressing demand in the environmental aspect; the rapid change in city-scale has given rise to several problems in Abu Dhabi’s natural environment. The huge growth in the city’s basic services, such as water, electricity supply, transportation, waste, and waste disposal, has become a challenge (Fischer, 2007).

Abu Dhabi is one of the speediest created urban communities in the area. On top of all the present and future ecological difficulties, Abu Dhabi intends to be among the top governments on the planet in sustainable development. The emirate intends to make an appealing, reasonable, and maintainable urban environment in which all vital administrations and foundation are given in an economical and auspicious way. Abu Dhabi is occupied with a troublesome test to create valid natural markers that would evaluate the aspiring ecological targets.

The point of these markers is to give solid direction to chiefs and general society concerning key elements that focus on the condition of the urban environment and recognize significant ranges for strategy mediation. With a specific end goal to guarantee manageable advancement in UAE as a rule, and of Abu Dhabi City specifically, applicable and logical ecological markers such as the GIS need to be deliberately considered (Pischke & Cashmore, 2006). Nature markers will help the city of Abu Dhabi in making such zones as distinguishing proof of critical natural angles and perception of ecological execution patterns. These can help to discover methods for decreasing ecological contamination and in enhancing eco-proficiency in the world’s fastest-growing city.


It is worth noting that GIS is a form of technology that seeks to comprehend and analyze information of a particular geographical site with the aim of enhancing planning and management through intelligent decision-making. The technology seeks to understand and derive knowledge in a given local environment. The major goal of GIS is to ensure sustainable development and management of environments. This technology plays critical roles in enhancing urban information management, such as conducting analysis, storage, and presentation through computerized techniques. Moreover, the information provided through GIS can be used to record, monitor, and predict environmental sustainability (Pischke & Cashmore, 2006). Therefore, this tool should be embraced in Abu Dhabi to acts as a support system for the planning and management of the urban structure.

GIS acts as an integration tool by linking data analysis with decision making in order to promote environmental sustainability in urban environments. This tool has numerous benefits and capabilities that facilitate planning and information management in urban environments. These include improved mapping, easy retrieval of information, and reduced cost of urban management, flexibility, and minimal redundancy process.


Sustainable development indicators identified in Abu Dhabi include the sustainability of economic, social, and environmental parameters. The respondents graded the environmental parameter as the first priority for guaranteeing sustainable development in the city of Abu Dhabi, with the other parameters taking the second position. The ranking of the environmental parameter in the first position was influenced by the need for cleaner, more organized, and well-planned use of water resources in a sustainable manner. Apparently, the proposed use of GIS by the experts and policymakers to guarantee sustainable development in the city of Abu Dhabi was informed by the need for a systematic and scientific parameter for managing development within the city and its environs.

The respondents highlighted the usefulness of GIS in assisting decision-makers in analyzing the development of city sustainability patterns with respect to space, socio-economic, and sustainability indicators. The outputs and results of this study will benefit decision-makers through the creation of reliable urban information databases and enable the decision making support system to facilitate proactive strategies on the city’s resources for future sustainable development activities in Abu Dhabi.


ADM. (2013). Abu Dhabi spatial data base. Abu Dhabi, UAE: Spatial data directorate, Town planning section. Web.

Bina, O. (2007). A critical review of the dominant lines of argumentation on the need for strategic environmental assessment. Environ. Impact Asses, 27(5), 585–606. Web.

Fischer, T.B. (2007). Theory and Practice of Strategic Environmental Assessment: Towards a More Systematic Approach. London: Earthscan. Web.

Pischke, F., & Cashmore, M. (2006). Decision-oriented environmental assessment: An empirical study of its theory and methods. Environ. Impact Asses, 26(2), 643– 662. Web.

Appendix 1: Questionnaire

  1. What is you area of specialization among the stakeholders listed below?
    1. Decision maker
    2. Consultancy expert
    3. Other professional
    4. Scholar in sustainable development
    5. General public with interest in sustainable development
  2. What is sustainable development and why does Abu Dhabi need environmental sustainability indicators?
  3. What are the environmental indicators currently used in Abu Dhabi to guide sustainable urban development?
  4. Is the current collection of indicators being used in UAE reflecting the environmental need and aspiration for built environment? If not, what are the relevant indicators which should adapt in UAE to achieve sustainable built environment?
  5. Can environmentalists use a GIS to monitor, record, and predict environmental sustainability, and as support system within the planning and institutional structure in UAE?