In a move that stands in stark contrast to the breakneck - and latterly halting - pace of development in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), environmental sustainability is being embraced by the Gulf state. The Emirates that have given the world what many see as the concrete extravagances of Dubai is backing its green stand with hard cash. The UAE's rulers are spending US$15 billion to build what promises to be the world's first carbon-neutral city. And UAE Consul General to Hong Kong Saeed Hamad Ali Aljunaibi points out that the pledge is no idle addition to the roll call of bigger and better projects that have made Dubai World, the investment company that manages businesses and development projects for the Emirate, call for a moratorium on its US$59 billion debt. For Aljunaibi and other Emiratis, Dubai's predicament is the consequence of a credit bubble induced mainly by private developers. Major projects, such as the carbon-neutral city in Masdar, near Abu Dhabi, and state-backed improvements to public transport and other facilities, will continue. After all, there are other Emirates in the UAE to consider: Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Qaiwain, Ras el Khaimah, Fujairah and the capital Abu Dhabi. 'We are not used to a severe drop and have not come across a situation such as this before - unlike Hong Kong business during the Sars [severe acute respiratory syndrome] crisis,' Aljunaibi said of the Gulf city's predicament. 'Dubai now has to be more realistic by rescheduling programmes that may mean postponements and restructuring of the debt. 'Most of the people affected by the Dubai problems are likely to be expats working for construction or finance companies involved in projects that have ground to a halt because of the credit crunch. We are concerned as much as they are.' As Dubai and financial markets around the world struggle with the construction boom turning to bust, it's perhaps timely that the UAE is taking on a pioneering role in the Arab world when it comes to green technology, conservation and environmental protection. Far from jumping on any modern trend, the consul general said that the UAE's environmental stand was rooted in the founding of the state. More than 40 years ago the policy to stop gas flaring made the UAE a pioneer among oil-producing nations in reducing harmful emissions. The founding father of the UAE [Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyanhad] had 'a vision of keeping the environment intact and this has been pursued to the extent that nobody is allowed to uproot or cut a tree without permission of a higher authority'. Organic farming is also being encouraged by making use of the irrigation potential of the saltwater that lies 50 feet below the sands around Abu Dhabi. 'It hasn't stopped us importing fruit and vegetables, but experts have been brought in from around the world to test the best way to grow plants or fruits. So now the UAE has farms,' he said. As Emirati businesses seek more opportunities in Hong Kong, the Abu Dhabi National Bank has set up in the city. There is little unusual about a bank opening in a regional financial centre, but Aljunaibi pointed out how the process showed the differences between the local way of doing business compared with the UAE. Aljunaibi said the bank displayed a commitment by purchasing a whole floor that will be its regional headquarters. Hong Kong staff have also been recruited as Emiratis preferred to employ managers with local experience. He said this was not always the case with mainland or Hong Kong companies with overseas offices. 'UAE companies don't set up just to promote their own staff. They are coming here to get business, so they let the people who know that country handle that country. This is more efficient.' He added that local companies ought to adopt a more aggressive approach to marketing their goods and services to the Middle East, rather than the insular one he felt some had been taking. The UAE is Hong Kong's biggest market in the Middle East, with exports worth US$15.9 billion between January and the end of October compared with US$17.1 billion during the same period last year, according to official figures. Up to the end of October, Hong Kong-UAE trade was worth US$28.8 billion, a 5 per cent fall on the same period last year. Imports from the UAE in the first 10 months were worth US$10.9 billion, a 1.6 per cent dip from the same period last year. In 2007-08, imports enjoyed nearly 12 per cent growth.