Interview: Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan

What impact will environmental sustainability practices have on global economic growth?

SHEIKHA SHAMMA BINT SULTAN BIN KHALIFA AL NAHYAN: There has been a long-standing debate about the relationship between sustainability and economic growth, due to misconceptions that they are mutually exclusive. In reality, the two are closely linked, especially as the green economy becomes more standard around the globe. Stakeholders are increasingly implementing environmentally friendly practices and adapting to market demands. In the utilities sector, for example, efficient water usage is becoming more important as the world’s population continues to expand. We will experience more water shortages, and prices will rise if we do not take measures to conserve water, both at home and at the industry level. In the energy sector, meanwhile, there is a global drive to transition away from fossil fuels, and many governments are providing fiscal and economic incentives for renewable projects. In turn, we are likely to see greater innovation and the development of new technology to make renewable energy more competitive and accessible. The agricultural industry is also implementing sustainable practices, particularly as food security becomes a growing priority. As the population increases, the cost of land rises and resources become scarcer, so we are seeing an increase in innovative agri-tech and vertical farming solutions being deployed. Given the UAE’s harsh climate and strong regulatory and business environment, the country is likely to act as a testing ground for such technologies. With regard to the important role smart cities and digitalisation are playing in the field of sustainability, we are actively researching and pursuing technologies and partners that can facilitate the achievement of the country’s goals in this arena.

How can collaboration be achieved among stakeholders to establish a more sustainable economy?

SHEIKHA SHAMMA: Collaboration and cooperation are essential; it is not possible to create a circular economy without all stakeholders working towards the same goal. Governments have a central role in establishing the framework that allows for such collaboration to happen, but we need the private sector to be engaged as well. This can be applied to areas such as the packaging of products, the concept of maintenance and repair instead of single-use products, or the means by which raw materials are sourced. Indeed, there are companies that have started moving in this direction, factoring in sustainable practices as a fundamental part of their business models. These are the firms that will excel in the future as consumers increasingly demand a truly circular economy. In the UAE the Coalition Circle was recently established after signing a pledge with the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment in April 2019 to combat the issue of plastic and packaging waste pollution and promote a more circular economy.

In what ways can the UAE implement sustainable and responsible financing methods?

SHEIKHA SHAMMA: The world is already using more resources than it can replenish. Consequently, investors are realising that a real circular economy has the potential to offer significant returns. The need for sustainable finance is growing, especially in developing countries. For example, it is estimated that emerging economies in Asia will require $20trn-30trn in infrastructure development funding in the next 15 years, in a range of sectors including energy, health, education and transport. The UAE can play a key role in this transformation as it is well positioned in terms of geography, infrastructure, cultural diversity and regulatory framework. In this sense, the UAE Sustainable Finance Guidelines have created an effective sustainable financing ecosystem, as they ensure that private investors implement environmentally conscious practices as a part of their business model. We are finding innovative ways to finance environmental, social and corporate governance-qualifying infrastructure projects and ventures.