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Tue 12 Aug 2008 04:00 AM

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Eco-warriors contest claims that Dubai has 'already gone too far'

Despite the UAE having the world’s second highest carbon footprint, real efforts are being taken to increase its responsibility to the planet.

Despite the UAE having the world’s second highest carbon footprint, real efforts are being taken to increase its responsibility to the planet.

One of the best examples of green hotels in the region is the Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, recently named "one of the world's best ecotourism models" by National Geographic magazine.

Emirates-owned Al Maha, which nestles within the 225-square kilometre Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) - which protects almost five percent of Dubai's land area under Decree and is home to the only free-roaming herds of protected Arabian Oryx in Dubai.

But, overall, the UAE's second city has attracted criticism from green activists, including the UK's only tourism watchdog, Tourism Concern.

Patricia Barnett, the organisation's director, claims that Dubai has already gone too far in terms of its energy usage and environmental degradation to warrant labelling any of its hotels truly ‘green'.

"The main ambition in Dubai is luxury and wealth, including the Palm and the World, neither of which appear to be concerned about the energy they are using," she says.

"Dubai needs to learn how to utilise its enormous wasted solar power. It's not just about saving gazelles. It's about being in harmony with your indigenous environment and all that incorporates."

Tony Williams, senior vice president, resorts and projects, Emirates Hotels and Resorts, agrees that not enough is made of the city's vast untapped solar energy, but he also vehemently insists that an organisation like Tourism Concern should be encourage the right activities, and highlight the best examples of environment protection in any region.

"There is no use in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Painting everything with the same brush is counter-productive," he says.

"There are major concerns within this industry about what has happened in the past, and many in it are looking for leadership examples in order to make their own changes.

"Highlighting the best examples in any destination will benefit others, as well as serving as model developments for other destinations and policy-makers to follow. Bad examples exist everywhere, as do good ones."And while it's true that, according to figures released by Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, residents in the emirate use on average a whopping 20,000 kilowatt hours a year and 130 gallons of water a day, the city has recently introduced new payment schemes for residents who go over a specified band in usage (but not for Dubai locals).

What's more, the Municipality has recently unveiled a stringent code of conduct for new buildings and hotels in the Emirate.

As of the beginning of this year, all new buildings, residential, hotel, or otherwise, must comply to green regulations.

"I will admit that the rate of Dubai development is excessive, but people also need to take the view is that these are new hotels built using modern materials and insulation, better drainage - not like Europe hotels which are often over 50 years old," adds Williams.

Another green pioneer in the Dubai hotel industry is Phil Barnett, director of engineering at Grand Hyatt, Dubai. The establishment now heats all of its water through solar energy - around 800 to 1000 KW of heat energy an hour.

"Not only is the system sound environmentally, but it's now cost-effective because the cost of fuel and electricity overall has doubled in the last year," Barnett says.

The Grand Hyatt is also aiming to get rid of using plastics in its hotel completely, along with using recyclable materials where possible, including 85% recyclable carpets.

This year the hotel plans to extend its solar energy usage to both street lights and garden lights and Barnett plans to follow in Al Maha's footsteps with 100% water recycling in the coming year.

"Protecting indigenous environment and bio-diversity is crucial - with few better examples than Al Maha, with five percent of Dubai's total land area under conservation management and protection," says Williams.

"Al Maha does make use of solar energy, as do several other hotels in Dubai, who have recently completed conversions."

RELATED LINK:The green pretenders

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