Emerald City

They broke ground earlier this year for the headquarters of Masdar City, which according to its sponsors will be ”the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city fully powered by renewable energy.”

Masdar City is the $22 billion showpiece of Abu Dhabi, the largest of the seven United Arab Emirates. It will be constructed over seven phases and is due to be completed by 2016.

The headquarters building is the first phase, slated to be finished by 2010. Its builders say it will be the world’s first large-scale, mixed-use positive energy building, producing more energy than it consumes. The complex will utilize sustainable materials and feature integrated wind turbines, outdoor air quality monitors and one of the world’s largest building-integrated solar energy arrays.

Masdar’s headquarters is being designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture of Chicago, which was selected by a global jury of seven world-reknowned design and urban planning experts from a field of 159 competitors. The Chicago firm emerged from 15 finalists who had met the sustainability criteria set for the Masdar project, including water and wastewater efficiency, indoor environmental quality, zero carbon emission, and carbon footprint reduction.

This is an impressive project, and Abu Dhabi deserves a tip of the hat for doing its part in the sustainable development movement. But if the Emirate is going to boast about its plans to reduce the size of its carbon footprint, we think it would be useful to measure the foot:

— Abu Dhabi currently sits on 9.5 percent of global crude oil proven reserves, about 98 billion barrels.

— Abu Dhabi is the world’s third largest oil exporter, behind only Saudi Arabia and Russia.

— Abu Dhabi is earning approximately $400 million per day in oil and gas revenues. It is surging ahead with a $20 billion program—roughly the amount it has earmarked for Masdar City—to expand its crude oil production capacity from a current level of 2.8 million barrels-a-day to up to 4 million barrels-a-day by 2015.

Extra-credit quiz question: What is going to have a bigger impact on Abu Dhabi’s carbon footprint during the next seven years, Masdar City or a 40% increase in crude oil production?

When the Masdar headquarters opens in 2010, no doubt the global trade press will be invited for a VIP tour. We’re going to wait until the landscaping on the project is completed. We even have a few ”decorating” tips, which we now offer free of charge to the Emirate:

No zero-carbon city is complete without a synthetic North Pole and a couple of rain forests, which can be populated by cloning some of the hundreds of species that have disappeared in the recently completed Century of Big Oil.

Give us a comfortable chair under a lush canopy of trees, a bottle of Stoli chilled in a bucket of Arctic ice, and a couple of Siberian tigers to look at, and we’re there.