Dubai: Climate Risk and Response


Dubai, UAE, is a coastal city in the Persian Gulf, with an arid, hot climate, and low precipitation. The city’s population is 2.24 million (Government of Dubai, 2014) and has been growing at 5 to 7% per year, by 2020 it is projected to reach 3.4 million (7 Day Dubai, 2014). Expatriates constitute 85% of its population, which resulted from decades of economic diversification away from oil production and into wholesale, real estate, financial services and tourism, which collectively make up around 62% of Dubai’s GDP (Gulf News, 2013). The real estate sector has expanded in the past decade, extending Dubai’s natural coastline by 166% (DeNino, 2012). There are further plans to add another 492 miles, which will add 1.5 million more inhabitants to the coastal area (The Emirates Network, 2007). Growing population and heavy development of these areas pose a challenge for the city government in terms of protecting the population, their properties, and coastal infrastructure from rising sea levels.

In addition to the risk of sea level rise, Dubai is vulnerable due to its limited fresh water supply. The principal desalination system, Jebel Ali, which provides majority of freshwater to the city is located a few feet above sea level. Desalination plants provide 98% of Dubai’s freshwater (Hackley, 2013) and have four days of fresh water supply in reserves (Alderman, 2010), making water access a national priority, particularly as average temperatures are projected to rise by 4.5 degrees in summer by 2100 (Dougherty et al, 2009). Water demand per capita is 132 gallons per day, which is 82% above global average (Emirates 24/7, 2013), and households account for 60% of demand. The combination of Dubai’s lmited freshwater supply and usage habits, as well as the hazard of sea level rise to the desalination facilities, we have recommended adaptation as a policy response. Dubai’s adaptive capacity is high, both in terms of its willingness and ability, which is demonstrated by its recent identification of sustainable growth as a major theme for the Dubai Expo 2020 (Sukkar, 2013), and its 7th position in a ranking of cities by real GDP growth (PwC Middle East, 2013).

Based on IPCC’s sea level rise projections for 2050, Dubai’s metropolitan area is at high risk of flooding which may result in population displacement and damage to the city’s economy (Tolba, 2009). In response Dubai’s leadership and urban planners should incorporate sea level rise into Dubai’s urban development plan. A key element for the adaptation strategy should be the creation of a flood hazard map (see figure) to identify the scale and scope of potential risks associated with urban development along the coast. Utilizing climate science and data specific to the region, the map will allow urban planners to identify high risk locations and adapt their land use policies accordingly. Furthermore, the map will highlight already developed areas which must be retrofitted to protect against flooding and erosion due to sea level rise (Zhu, 2010).


This article is a product of Professor Shagun Mehrotra’s Climate Change and Cities class. Analysis is based on the Framework for City Climate Risk Assessment and Climate Change and Cities:First Assessment Report of the Urban Climate Change Research Network. Views expressed are entirely those of the authors. 



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