Carbon Free in the Desert

Australia’s CO2 emissions are among the highest in the world, when expressed on a per capita basis. When our historical responsibilities are taken into account, we are 14th—out of about 200 countries in the world. Nonetheless, political figures and the media like to point fingers at other countries whose per capita emissions are even higher than ours. For example, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) spew out nearly 30 tonnes of CO2 per capita, compared to our 19 tonnes (but don’t rejoice—the Swiss get by with about 5 tonnes, or nearly 75% less than us!).

It turns out that the UAE deserve a more careful look, because their enormous emissions tell only part of the story. The other part of the story is a place called Masdar.

Actually, Masdar is more than a place—it’s a project, it’s a city, and it’s a vision for the future. A carbon-free vision. Masdar seeks to become the world’s first carbon free, sustainable city, powered entirely by renewables.

At the moment, there are few buildings that have been finished, and completion of the project is scheduled to occur between 2020 and 2025 at an estimated cost of around US$20 billion. At first glance, that is a very hefty price tag for a city expected to house between 45,000 and 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses. However, break it down per person and it comes to $400,000, which is significantly less than the current median house price in Perth.

So, for less than the price of a house in Perth, a city is being built that is entirely carbon free, that recycles most of its water, and that attempts to reduce waste to zero. That doesn’t sound too bad.

Have you heard of Masdar before? I rather doubt it, I only found out about it through a talk here at UWA. Indeed, it would be easy to miss out on Masdar if you read Australian newspapers: According to a Factiva search, they mentioned the keywords “Masdar” and “carbon” a grand total of 6 times during the last year. By contrast, the words “China” and “carbon” were mentioned in 2,091 articles during that time.