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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Analysing the Challenges of an Eco-City in the UAE: The Limitations of Technology and the Impact of Behaviour

Georges Abou Adal

Analysing the Challenges of an Eco-City in the UAE: The Limitations of Technology and the Impact of Behaviour

Never before have urbanization and sustainability been so intertwined. It is well known for instance, that the intensity of desertification due to climate change has been a major factor of urbanization growth. Conversely, urbanization has as well resulted into more energy-thirsty lifestyles and is a considerable cause of global warming.

For the past few years, the concept of ‘eco-city’ has emerged as a solution to damper the impact of urbanization on sustainability. A particular project has made the news-highlights for its promising outcome. ‘Masdar’ city in the UAE is boasted to become the first ‘zero-carbon’, car-free city in the world to ever be built. It will house a maximum of 50,000 residents, and will endorse the stringent One Planet Living principles developed by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

But isn’t ‘eco-city’ an oxymoron? It all depends on what the latter means.  Consequently, the first step of this thesis is to come up with a definition for the term ‘eco-city’ by benchmarking its features across different green communities.  As the title clearly indicates, the research focuses on the UAE, a country with the highest ecological footprint per capita on earth and with an urbanization rate of 85%.

Understanding what is meant by sustainability in the case of Masdar has helped us determine a crucial challenge: its residents. Their behaviours and interactions within their high-tech surrounding is key to the city’s success as well as failure. Therefore, this thesis dresses up different scenarios that illustrate the limitations of technology and the impact of residents’ behaviours on the Water, Food and Transport sectors. The simulations’ results show that, while appropriate technologies will play a considerable role in the case of Masdar, the lifestyles of residents will have a great impact on the sustainability of the city. The study then moves on to provide specific recommendations in order to help ensure the success of the project from an early stage, starting with a redefinition of sustainability in the case of the UAE.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.