DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- A massive stage set in the middle of an empty stretch of Abu Dhabi's desert, with a projector screen several stories high, lined with TV cameras and lights. It was the setting for a stunning announcement -- an ambitious plan to spend $22 billion to build an entirely new green city.
A project model of the world's first zero-carbon city, Masdar City, in the United Arab Emirates.
At centre stage, lit by a single spotlight, the elegant Sultan Al Jaber, Chief Executive of Masdar, the state-owned company tasked with building the city, promised new solutions to the world's environmental problems. "No one has ever built a zero-carbon city before," he said from behind a podium, "Nor one producing zero waste or fully powered by renewable energy. Masdar City will accomplish all three."
The leaders of Abu Dhabi, one of seven semi-autonomous states in the United Arab Emirates, are trying to build the greenest city on the planet. The futuristic city is expected to take eight years to complete.
Instead of cars, which will be banned inside the city, there will be a massive electric public transit system. Streets will be shaded with massive screens to lower temperatures, lessening the demand for air-conditioning. All the power used in the city will be generated through new technologies, as well as solar panels and wind turbines.
Chief Executive, Sultan Al Jaber, admits the city involves a "paradigm shift" in thinking. "We will have to take some people through a learning curve for them to understand the concept," admitted Jaber. This may be especially true for cities like Abu Dhabi and Dubai, known as some of the worst environmental offenders in the world.
Jonathon Loh, who helped write a World Wildlife Fund report that ranked nations by their environmental records, found the UAE had the "largest carbon footprint, per capita, in the world." The UAE has endless air-conditioned malls. Water used in the city all has to be de-salinated -- an energy consuming process. This is where gas is cheap and it is stylish to drive SUVs.
Even the press conference to announce the new environmental initiative did not appear all that green. A generator that was tucked away behind the stage powered the press conference. Valet parking offered made it easy for those who wanted to arrive in their SUVs. Loh and some other environmentalists are asking why the leaders of Abu Dhabi are not spending the money on trying to fix some of the UAE's existing environmental problems.
Designers insist this is about much more than just one city. A large number of green businesses --1,500 -- will be invited to work in the city, to research and develop new green products and services. They hope the city will be a model for other environmental cities. All the financing to build the city is still not in place but everyone seems to agree, the United Arab Emirates is as good as place as any to see if it works. E-mail to a friend