Abu Dhabi’s new building code, regulations that make sustainability compulsory in all buildings and major retro-fits throughout the emirate, come into force on 1 January 2010.

They will set a minimum standard for all the elements involved in project delivery, from the design of new buildings to the way redundant structures are demolished. This encompasses energy efficiency, water use and the wider environmental impact of construction.

The code is a turning point for the Gulf green building movement. An entire economy will have to adhere to internationally-defined standards of sustainability by law. Abu Dhabi’s projects are only part of what is being built in the region. But they constitute one of its largest components. According to MEED Projects, at least $100bn worth of new projects have been announced or are under construction in the emirate.

The rest of the Gulf lags behind Abu Dhabi, but is trying to catch up. Dubai, the only place on earth where sustainable buildings are mandatory, is working on a building code which will incorporate demanding green building standards. The debate is mainly about how quickly they should be implemented.

Leading Dubai government-related entities are already applying green building standards. Dubai World, the conglomerate which includes Dubai World and Nakheel, requires all new buildings to conform to a green building rating system it has adapted from Leed. Tecom, which owns and operates 10 free zones, is retro-fitting its buildings to conform with Leed and has applied the rating system to Enpark, its new environmental free zone.

Building standards

The Qatar Sustainable Assessment System (QSAS) has been devised by Barwa Real Estate Company and the Barwa Qatari Diar Research Institute. It was launched in April 2009. The standards it defines are expected to be incorporated into the Qatari building code and become compulsory. The Saudi Green Building Council has been formed to promote sustainability in construction. Some Saudi clients are already requiring green building standards. A total of 31 buildings being built the King Abdullah Financial District near Riyadh are being designed to conform with Leed.

Going green will be one of the big them in the Gulf projects market during 2010 and beyond. The argument has been largely won among policymakers. Sustainable buildings will reduce electricity consumption and conserve water at a time when the GCC is grappling with soaring power demand and declining water resources.

Developers are less convinced. Many believe green buildings cost more, but this objection is under attack. Ali bin Towaih, director of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Division (Seed) at Tecom Investments, told MEED’s Green Buildings conference in November that two Tecom retro-fit projects cost less than 1 per cent more than they would have done if they had been completed conventionally.

The consensus, however, is that the Gulf green building revolution will only come as a result of regulation, not ratings. Attention is shifting towards how building codes requiring sustainability will be policed. Officials within Abu Dhabi’s Department of Municipal Affairs say policing will be strengthened and examples will be made of investors who contravene the new code.

The rest of the Middle East is watching closely what happens in the Gulf. Jordan is dependent on imported energy and faces potentially catastrophic water shortages, but is moving tentatively in the right direction. Egypt, facing intense environmental challenges as population density increases in the Nile valley, has begun to control energy and water waste.

Water shortages

Leadership of the region’s green movement has been seized by the Gulf. Masdar City, the world’s most ambitiously-sustainable integrated development, is taking shape in Abu Dhabi. It aims to be carbon neutral.

But energy neutrality, buildings that create as much energy as they consume, is the new GCC objective. This will be done by incorporating solar power generation, minimising energy and water loss, and recycling waste.

It is an extraordinary vision, but one that cannot come too soon. Abu Dhabi’s peak electricity consumption in the summer of 2009 was 11 per cent higher than it was 12 months earlier.

The Gulf is trying to halt the trend by using some of the most coherent green building programmes on earth. The region is rightly charged with using too much of the world’s resources. But the accusation that it is doing nothing about it, is a myth.