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Towards a Greener Future

The ABCC held a business forum under the title of Towards a Greener Future on 16th June bringing together a panel of experts from the UK and Arab World to share insights into aspects of the green economy.

Speakers explained that achieving a greener future meant major transformation of energy, water, food security, climate and virtually all sectors. 

The Greener Future business forum took place as a hybrid event with speakers participating in person and online.

The discussion took place exactly three months before the ABCC's Arab British Economic Summit (ABES22), whose programme would also consist of a discussion on net zero and how the COP26 commitments are reshaping the global economy.

In welcoming remarks, Mr Bandar Reda, ABCC Secretary General & CEO, described sustainable economy and renewable energy as vital for the future of everyone and our children. The Rt Hon Baroness Symons, ABCC Chairman, reiterated these comments in her remarks.

Chairing the session, Mr Abdeslam El-Idrissi, ABCC Deputy CEO & Secretary General, said that panel would be addressing key topics brought into focus by COP26.

The discussion was a preliminary to ABES 2022 which would be looking beyond COP26 and forwards to COP27 and COP28, which were both planned to be held in the Arab world.

These international summits were having an impact on how business was conducted across the entire range of economic activities.

The question of a greener future touched on areas of energy, water, food security, climate and the sectors that were transforming the economy of the future. 

Mr El-Idrissi urged delegates to sign up for ABES2022 and participate in the opportunities that would be highlighted at the event. To give people an idea of what could be expected, a short video was screened concerning the proceedings of ABES2019. 

Professor Upal Wijayantha, Head of the Centre for Renewable Energy Systems at Cranfield University, made the opening speech which began by describing his twenty year involvement in developing green energy solutions.

He had been among a team of experts responsible for developing a masterplan for a UK hydrogen strategy.

Prof Upal spoke of a growing public awareness of the urgency of the climate challenge. He recalled speaking more than a decade ago at a conference in the Gulf on the theme of moving beyond oil when renewables like solar power were not so widely appreciated as they are at present. 

By contrast, today countries like Saudi Arabia were leading players in the development of green solutions, he said. 

He believed that the younger generation including those in the Arab world were eager to find green solutions to reduce the impact of human activities in the environment.

He stressed that green or sustainable solutions encompass far more than the transformation of the energy sector alone but included construction, transport, technology and the protection of nature.

Prof Upal had worked on drawing up a detailed ten point plan for green growth in the Midlands which had included participants from both the public and private sectors.

The proposals had examined the advantages of sustainable solutions to the main economic activities and had considered hybrid transport policies, the use of sustainable building materials in construction and the impact on such activities on the natural landscape.

The plan had been inspired by a determination to improve how people live by developing green urban spaces and how low carbon hydrogen was a clean energy solution could create new jobs and produce savings.

Green innovation could assist industry to adapt to meet the climate challenge that we all confront, Prof Upal stated.

The investment needed to carry out the plan could be obtained from green finance.  

The Midlands plan could be adapted to meet the needs of countries in the Arab world as they faced the challenges of moving towards low carbon economies, the professor believed.

The issues of water supply, energy, waste management and transport all posed distinct challenges shared by the Arab world and the UK.

Prof Upal argued that the search for solutions to these challenges presented greater opportunities for UK-Arab collaboration and this involved multi-sectors ranging from real estate and infrastructure, renewables, hospitality, transport and logistics.

There needed to be an integrated and innovative approach to the shared economic challenges, he remarked, concluding that working together would bring about success.

The second speaker was Courtney Lowrance, Managing Director, Sustainable & Corporate Transitions, citi, global investment bank and financial services company.

She argued that the MENA region had a strategic part to play in the global energy transition.

She envisaged a strong role for the region's sovereign wealth funds in investing in future renewable energy and acknowledged that the high oil prices meant that there was more investment available for projects at locally and internationally.

The global financial services industry, of which citi was a leading player, was adapting its approach to address the net zero commitments. This was a recognition that up to 137 countries had pledged to meet the net zero target.

The race to meet the net zero ambitions had been a signal to the financial services industry that green solutions required proper financing. As a result, there was a growing awareness of the opportunities that were emerging in the drive to achieve sustainability.

This trend was evident in different sectors, like agri-tech and sustainable food policies, which were now receiving serious attention and would receive increasing focus in the future, Ms Lowrance explained.

The significant changes occurring in the financial services sector cannot be overstated.

In response, Mr El-Idrissi remarked that the Arab countries were now forging ahead with renewables and mentioned the solar ambitions of Morocco and a new sustainability report issued by Saudi Aramco, which clearly demonstrated the region's serious commitment to renewables.

This drive for renewables was creating new industries and the skilled jobs that would be able to generate wealth and secure a cleaner future.   

Dr Daniel Klier, CEO, ESG Book, a data and technology company, said that green solutions were now a mainstream concern among investors and estimated that assets to the value of $100 trillion were needed to carry out the transition to a net zero economy.

Currently sustainability was being integrated into policy at government and regulatory levels, Dr Klier stated, opening up the potential for profitable growth.

Despite the emerging possibilities there remained a need for the adoption of a single sustainability standard to assess whether public declarations of green credentials were being implemented in reality.

Dr Klier pointed to a survey which found that 29% of corporations had adopted credible net zero targets for the next 30 years, while across the MENA region only 13% of firms were aligning their activities to net zero at present. 

The speaker, who has previously been global head of sustainable finance at HSBC, argued that the financial sector needed to make an honest assessment of the commitments to achieving net zero. A key to success would be found in transparency.

Potential investors needed accurate information about the opportunities and risks presented by climate change in order to make informed decisions.

Sustainability concerned far more than climate alone and, as the world entered a critical period, there was an increasing need for capital allocation to meet the challenges and implement the required solutions, Dr Klier stated.

Other speakers illustrated how the Arab world was grasping the challenge of climate change by expanding their renewables industries.

Speaking to the meeting online from Egypt, Mr Ahmed Zahran, CEO & Co-founder, Karmsolar, explained how his company had developed a successful business model for the growth of solar power generation to supply Egyptian customers within the framework of the country's subsidised energy market.

The Egyptian government had made land available for the establishment of solar installations which had enabled investment to flow into solar innovations, Mr Zahran said.

He signalled that company was now looking to ways that the successful model could be applied in other countries and was seeking formulas that would meet the requirements in different markets.

Technical advances in power generation were no longer as dependent on central government as in previous years, he stated.

There was the possibility of introducing smaller scale generators to meet the needs of local communities and facilitate greater access to energy supplies.  

Dr Raed Bkayrat, from Kuwaiti based Alternative Energy Projects (AEPCo), presented an overview of the various steps to achieve net zero targets taken by the Gulf countries.

The forthcoming COP27 to be hosted by Egypt and COP28 to be hosted by the UAE provided a sharper focus for the regional activities.

One key driver for the growth of renewables was the growing demand for energy by industry and domestic users.

Regional trends show that oil was becoming less dominant while solar was rising in importance. Major investment was needed to achieve the energy transition that countries had pledged to deliver.

While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was leading the carbon market in the region, countries like Egypt and Morocco had witnessed a significant growth in their solar industries in recent years, Dr Bkayrat explained.

Outlining trends in the solar sector in the MENA, he pointed to the low tariffs, large projects and the presence of big developers.

The volatility of global oil prices was having an impact on solar plans which were also closely linked to other priorities like job creation and the localisation of industry.

The need to develop an effective grid to organise supply and demand around the region also offered an important investment opportunity. 

Mr Mohammed Waleed Ayoub, Regional Commercial Director at GE Renewable Energy, discussed some of the main trends that are reshaping the energy sector in the drive towards a sustainable future.

The regional growth in industry meant an increased need for power, he said. As a result, the electricity demand was rising.

In future, the adoption of electric vehicles would create additional demands for power as they were introduced into the market. 

There was an eagerness in the region to adapt to meet the new priorities demanded by climate change.

The expansion of renewables was assisted by the development of new technologies. Digitalisation and decentralisation were key trends making an impact on the changing energy market.

Mr Ayoub stated that revised regulatory frameworks had opened up new opportunities for smaller innovative energy suppliers to enter the market.

The Arab world was grasping the opportunities created by new technology and was ready to benefit from the technical innovations that were transforming the energy sector.