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Ten years ago Dubai had one of the largest ecological footprints of any city in the world. By 2050 it wants to have the smallest. Can it get there? In part, this goal is driven by the looming deadline of 2020, when Dubai expects 25 million visitors for Expo2020 (the world's fair), an event with the city's sustainability as one of its main themes. Dubai is a city of superlaGves, a sprawling efflorescence of concrete, glass and steel that has sprung up over the past three decades on the scorched sands of Arabia, but so much audacity developed in a very unfavourable climate. There are no permanent rivers. There is hardly any land suitable for culGvaGon. What kind of human seLlement makes sense in such a place? For centuries Dubai was a fishing village and trading port, small and poor. Then oil and a wild real estate boom turned it into a city that boasts the world's tallest building, one of the densest collecGons of skyscrapers and the third busiest airport. From a sustainability point of view, the city probably would not have been built here. Yet a sustainable city is exactly what the Dubai government says it wants to create. An incredibly ambiGous goal. The boom years have made the city a poster child for the excess that results when cheap energy meets environmental indifference. Indoor skiing is just one symbol: Dubai burns far more fossil fuel to air-condiGon its glass towers. To keep the taps on all those buildings running, it essenGally boils hundreds of Olympic-sized pools of seawater every day. And to create more beaches for more hotels and luxury villas, it has buried coral reefs under immense arGficial islands. Yet something else has happened since 2006: Dubai has started to change. Gleaming driverless metro trains now run the length of the linear city, along Sheikh Zayed Road, carrying as many people, and o[en faster, than the cars on that clogged 12-lane artery. In Dubai's southern suburbs, a new residenGal complex called Sustainable City has opened, recycling water and waste and producing more energy than it consumes. Further out in the desert, Dubai is building a giant solar power plant that will soon produce some of the cheapest and cleanest electricity on Earth. According to Tanzeed Alam, climate director for the Emirates Wildlife Society, the leadership has recognised that economic growth is not sustainable without acGon on emissions. In Dubai, the "leadership" is His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the 67-year-old crown emir, aka the ruler. Sheikh Mohammed took over in 2006. He has decreed that his city will get 75% of its energy from clean sources by 2050. He wants it to have the smallest carbon footprint in the world. Many people believe that the city could actually achieve this. Can the world's boldest city build more sustainably? If Dubai can do it, any city can .

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