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Construction Week Leaders in Construction Summit: Driving the UAE’s Net-Zero Strategy

September 2023
Claire Miller, Lyndon Richards and Ilham Adan

The annual Construction Week Leaders in Construction Summit took place on 20 September this year, in Dubai. The Summit brought together industry experts to share their insights on the latest trends and technologies that will help drive the UAE’s net-zero strategy.

In this two-part series, we discuss the key takeaways from the Summit and the contractual implications we are likely to see as a result of the changing regulatory climate.


As we are now faced with a narrowing window of opportunity for keeping global temperatures below a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase, there is greater focus on the reduction of carbon emissions, with governments requiring all sectors to integrate sustainable practices and solutions to achieve this goal.

The construction industry is one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions, accounting for nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  There is, therefore, a pressing need to adapt construction practices to be more sustainable so as to eliminate emissions from new construction and we are carefully monitoring how this is passed down to the industry from concept designs to contract terms.

The Regulations

The UAE’s commitment to sustainability has led to the establishment of regulations that endorse green building and renewable energy, in line with the UAE’s target to be net zero by 2050.

In 2010, Dubai issued the green building regulations, requiring all buildings to meet specific energy and water efficiency standards.  The Green Building Regulations are expected to save AED 10 billion by 2030 and reduce around 30 percent of Dubai’s carbon emissions.

Other Emirates have since implemented their own green building codes, including Estidama in Abu Dhabi which will apply to the significant number of projects we expect to see launched in Abu Dhabi over the next five years.

Designing and Constructing Carbon Neutral Buildings

Consultants, contractors and government representatives expressed a number of the key actions that they see falling within their respective remits, and that they have started employing, including:

  • designing sustainable buildings incorporating energy-efficient features such as high-performance windows and efficient lighting systems, and that adaptable to changing weather conditions and can withstand natural disasters;
  • adapting the construction process, using electric vehicles for transportation of materials and equipment and electric plant and machinery where required on site;
  • more use of prefabricated building components, as the entire modular construction process reduces the number of vehicles and heavy equipment required on site, resulting in reduced pollution and less site disruption.


As buildings account for 60% of overall carbon emissions in urban areas, retrofitting existing buildings is a crucial step towards achieving carbon neutrality.

We are likely to see an increase in consultants and contractors being appointed for the retrofit of existing buildings to reduce their carbon footprint and make progress towards the UAE’s sustainability targets.

Retrofitting the significant building structures within the UAE with energy-efficient technologies and practices is therefore a significant challenge, however it will also offer significant opportunities to the construction industry as the UAE looks to achieve effective reduction in energy consumption and emission of greenhouse gases.

Smart Cities

The Government of Dubai has already signalled its commitment to the importance of 15-minute cities or ‘smart cities’ in order to further carbon neutrality, with the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan.

The creation of compact, mixed-use neighbourhoods that are well-connected by public transport will promote a modal shift away from private vehicles and lower transport emissions, ultimately resulting in better air quality.  The use of smart technologies such as sensors and data analytics to optimise energy consumption and reduce waste, will add to this.

Likely Contractual Implications

The industry is familiar with contract terms that require contractors and consultants to comply with the applicable laws and regulations in force in the country. By virtue of such clauses, the industry will now be contractually bound to ensure they are acting in line with any sustainability related regulations in force.

We consider we are likely to see an increase in more sustainability-specific clauses being included in contracts, binding stakeholders to design and build sustainable buildings while adhering to sustainable construction practices, which are likely to include:

  • Net-zero specifications in order to encourage the use of renewable energy sources and energy efficient technologies.
  • Specifying energy efficiency targets with the requirement to meet the targets before project completion, in order to ensure that buildings are designed and constructed with a focus on reducing energy consumption.
  • Mandating compliance with sustainable working practices, such as waste reduction, recycling and responsible material sourcing.
  • Emphasising the protection and enhancement of existing ecological features on construction sites.
  • Encouraging the use of local suppliers to reduce transportation-related emissions and in turn support the local economy.

Key Takeaways

Achieving carbon neutrality in the construction industry will require a concerted effort from all key stakeholders and in particular, collaboration between the public and private sectors.  It is also going to lead to significant opportunities for those keen to take forward the initiatives driving the current development in the UAE.

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