Dubai is paying people not to break the law

Drivers offered prizes for good behaviour.

It's hardly common practice for authorities to offer prize money for staying within the limits of the law - but this is exactly what's happening in Dubai.

Drivers who go 12 months without a traffic violation will now become eligible for prizes - including cars. There are about one million driving licences registered in Dubai, and only 500 prizes, and therefore, as the head of Dubai Police traffic department Maj Gen Al Zaffin told The National, "there might need to be a selection process based on the number of people who will be eligible”. Might. But as atrocious as driving in Dubai might currently be, there are high hopes for the scheme:

"[W]e are hoping it will reduce accidents by 10 to 20 per cent in the long run,” he said.

It's an odd, nudge-policy-like thing for Dubai authorities to do - but a quick scout for relevant studies throws up some evidence that supports the idea.

One study in the US found that speeding was virtually eliminated amongst drivers who were offered $25  a week not to exceed a speed limit.

Here's a summary, via stuff.co.nz:

The study placed a GPS tracker in eight cars and loaned to 50 different drivers for a week. A control group of 10 drove the cars as they did every day and their speed was monitored.

Another 20 were warned every time they exceeded the speed limit.

The final 20 drivers were also warned when they exceeded the speed limit but additionally told they would get a $25 reward at the end of the week if they didn't exceed the speed limit. They lost three cents for travelling between 3-8 miles per hour (5-13kmh) over the limit and six cents for infringements above that level, the npr.org website reports. Any speeding tickets they accrued stood as an additional penalty.

Each time the driver completed a trip, they were given a report showing any penalties they had accrued.

According to the researchers, the very clear (if small) penalties and rewards system made motorists determined to "win the game" - watching their driving far more carefully.

Insurance companies already operate a rewards system for careful drivers - but this is the first time a goverment has. It will be interesting to see if it works.

Cars vs camels in Dubai. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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