In the past three decades Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have realised a meteoric economic rise. Whereas the former two can be considered ‘rentier states’ heavily depending on oil (and gas) revenues, the latter only leans on oil for a mere 6% of its gross domestic product (GDP). Although the economic rise has brought considerable welfare, it has also led these emirates to attain the world’s highest per capita carbon footprint. To address this problem Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai seem to have formulated policies with regard to sustainable urbanisation and adopted strong branding strategies to promote them internally and externally. In this paper we examine which steps have been taken to substantiate their claims to sustainable urbanisation, in branding as well as in actions taken towards implementation. We find that all three have been very active in branding their sustainable urbanisation policies, through visions and policy frameworks as well as prestigious development projects, but that the former is substantially more impressive than the latter. Results also show there is a difference between Abu Dhabi and Qatar on the one hand, and Dubai on the other. Dubai has large number of small ‘free economic zones’, academic institutions for developing a knowledge economy, and smart and/or sustainable urban neighbourhoods, while Qatar and Abu Dhabi have a small number of very large ones. From the three, it is currently Dubai which has taken the lead in this development, largely completing its industrial transition with vast economic diversification and urban expansion. However, across the board this has had little effect on its ecological footprint.
- City branding
- sustainable urban development
- rentier state