An investment of up to $100 trillion will be needed to enable climate change targets to be met, the World Green Economy Summit heard in Dubai on Tuesday.

At the first plenary session of the summit, on sustainable development goals, Zoë Knight, managing director and group head of HSBC’s Centre for Sustainable Finance, said: “Estimates are in the region of around $100 trillion to be spent over the next 15 years to build infrastructure systems that will enable us to achieve the targets in the Paris Agreement, namely the two-degree [climate change mitigation] goal. Clearly, unlocking that capital is going to be a huge challenge for us all.”

A HSBC global survey showed that two-thirds of investors want to increase their allocation towards the green economy, Knight added, but there were barriers in opportunity sets and disclosure on what “green” really means.

“In some parts of the world, we have seen sovereign wealth funds taking fairly active stances, and divesting their portfolios, thinking about how they transit the world to a low-carbon place.”

Half of all corporations have an environmental strategy, she said, a figure she described as “low”, adding that governments need to have incentives in place to unlock capital flows to deliver change.

Khalif Abuleif, Saudi Arabian senior advisor to the Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources, Sustainability and Climate Policy, said it was important to face certain realities.

Water and food shortages and the country’s existing climate were all challenges that made it difficult to meet climate change goals, he said. The fact that fossil fuels are going to continue to be used for the foreseeable future was another reality, he added.

“When we are looking at climate change, we are really looking at emissions going into the atmosphere,” said Abuleif.

He cited carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) as a way to make fossil fuels a more sustainable option by preventing the release of CO2 into the atmosphere.

A similar issue had arisen in the region with the use of gas in the 1960s, he said, with technology later pioneered to reduce the level of waste and pollution. He asked: “Can we do the same with CO2?”

Focus on oil & gas

Dr Eng Waddah Ghanem Al Hashmi, executive director, EHSSQ and corporate affairs, Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC) Group, said globally there had been an increase in the understanding of the impact that business has on the environment in the past 20 years.

“The oil and gas business has always been criticised for not being innovative enough, or creative enough, because it is quite a conservative business, but I think this we see is starting to really change.” 

ENOC initiatives include charging stations for electric cars, in agreement with Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), at 10 or 15 of its petrol stations, and the use of solar panels installed on petrol station canopies to provide power, he said.

“Boards and executives in the future will need, more and more, to reassess the decisions that they are making, because those decisions need to take into account how it’s going to impact on the sustainability of the business, how it’s going to impact the viability of the business, and how it’s going to shape the business for where it needs to be in the next 10 or 15 years,” he said.

Job sustainability

For Victor Van Vuuren, director of the International Labour Organisation, the key to creating a sustainable future was to invest in people. He said that governments need to consider what will happen when jobs that are deemed unsustainable disappear.

“In the Philippines, they are closing down a number of mines, but they are leaving a whole society and community unemployed. We have to find ways to transform jobs to make them sustainable,” he said. 

Van Vuuren referred to United States President Donald Trump’s desire to reopen coal mines and create 70,000 new jobs, saying: “It has been said that reopening old coal mines in the U.S. would create 70,000 jobs, but little do they know that 700,000 jobs have been created in the renewable energy industry.”

Khalid Malid, co-chair of the Global Sustainability Forum and former director of the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Report Office, said the need to consider sustainability was now vital in all sectors, including in food production.

“The production of beef alone produces more carbon emissions than the car and aviation sectors put together,” he said. “We cannot continue as we are.”

The World Green Economy Summit is being held at Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre on 24-25 October.

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© ZAWYA 2017