It may be too soon to write off the climate change campaign, but some of the urgency has gone from calls for action to contain and cut emissions of carbon dioxide caused by fossil fuel combustion.

It is now almost three months since the end of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, which closed without a global agreement to reduce carbon production. But, across the world, support among ordinary people for radical measures seems to be fading.

Perhaps it is part of the conservative reaction in the US against President Obama’s plans, which include more legislation to cut emissions. Perhaps it is suspicion of shenanigans among global warming gloomsters caused by reports that the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia manipulated data to emphasise the dangers of growing carbon production. It might have been the exceptionally cold weather in northern Europe and the US this winter. Or it might just be boredom among the general public. Whatever the reason, people everywhere have grown more sceptical.

Fewer restrictions

The implications for the Middle East are significant. There is now no immediate threat that the region’s leading oil and gas exporters will face a range of restrictions on hydrocarbons. The consensus long-term forecast that global demand for hydrocarbons will continue to grow by more than 1 per cent annually can remain the baseline assumption for Gulf producers. They will have to continue to invest heavily in exploration and new production capacity to meet growing demand for Gulf oil.

There may be knock-on implications. It was reported at the end of February that two senior executives involved with delivering the Masdar City project had resigned. The talk in Abu Dhabi this spring is about whether the government of emirate is seriously reviewing plans for the city, which aims to be the world’s first integrated, carbon-neutral development.

There is no doubt that the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) is making a positive contribution to Abu Dhabi’s image as one of the world’s leading environmental innovators. There is no evidence that plans for Masdar City are being scaled back. But with carbon emissions tumbling down policymakers’ agendas elsewhere, there may need to be a corresponding rearrangement of priorities in Abu Dhabi.

The emirate, dealing with the consequences of the Dubai financial crisis, is showing signs of focusing on projects where the outputs are more certain and easier to quantify. Plans are now at an advanced stage for the first phases of the Capital District, one of the most significant elements of the Urban Planning Council’s long-term redevelopment programme for Abu Dhabi city.

Sustainable strategy

All work on the project will be subject to the new Abu Dhabi building code. This makes incorporating sustainable building principles mandatory. The Capital District will cover 5,000 hectares and will be one of the largest integrated developments in the Middle East in the years to 2020.

Despite the failure of the Copenhagen summit, Gulf states are continuing to push ahead with green building initiatives. The Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS), Qatar’s own green building rating methodology, has been completed. In Saudi Arabia, serious efforts are being made to develop a coherent green building strategy. Other Gulf states are moving in the same direction.

Worries about climate change were never a decisive issue for the region’s sustainability movement. The dominant factor is the understanding that buildings that use less electricity and water are precisely what the Gulf needs as a new era of rapid growth starts unfolding.

Thinking about the why the oceans rise and fall can change, and will do again. But green buildings always make sense.