Sustainability, UAE-style.

John Katsos
7 min readOct 17, 2018

Why the rest of the world would do well to look at the sustainability challenges of living in the desert.

“man walking on desert with camel” by Federico Gutierrez on Unsplash

When I speak with sustainability professionals outside of the UAE, many chuckle at the idea of the UAE trying to be sustainable.

How can country dependent on oil exports be “sustainable”?

How can country with no natural water resources be “sustainable”?

How can a place in the desert be “sustainable”?

Those are the first three questions I usually get. I have your answers below!

What these questions usually show is how little people understand about the global economy, but more worryingly, how little even sustainability professionals understand about the coming global shifts due to climate change.

To understand what the real reason behind the scoffing is, its interesting to compare UAE to Norway, often considered one of the most sustainable countries on earth.

If you have a problem with the UAE’s dependence on oil, ask yourself: when was the last time you complained about Norway?

I really like Norway. Guillaume Briard on Unsplash

The “oil complaint” is always the number one question. It is almost always spoke with full snark, a sort of argumentative trump card if you will, as if to say, “you fool”.

Norway and UAE are interesting comparison countries for a number of reasons.

First, they both began exporting oil at around the same time (1960s and 70s).

Second, oil exports are a large percentage of the GDP for both countries (between 15 and 25%) and a similarly large percentage of total exports (between 25 and 40%). Ranges change based on global oil prices over a given year.

Third, they are both relatively small in terms of landmass and population as compared to the other major oil-producing countries, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman being the other small countries among the top 25 countries with the largest proven oil…

John Katsos

Scholar. Educator. Writer. I help people learn to start and manage better, more sustainable businesses and be better humans. Opinions my own.