Masdar is an example of visionary planning for the future, says Achim Steiner. Andrew Henderson / The National
Masdar is an example of visionary planning for the future, says Achim Steiner. Andrew Henderson / The National

A champion of the green cause



This has been a month of environmental highs and lows. Last Sunday, representatives of nearly 200 nations meeting in Durban agreed to come up with a plan to fight climate change by 2015. The "Durban Platform" is meant to take the place of the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty among 37 nations to curb emissions that expires next year, and is more inclusive with the backing of the US and China.

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A day later, Canada became the first nation to withdraw from Kyoto, avoiding US$13.6 billion (Dh49.95bn) of penalties for failing to meet emissions-cutting targets and paving the way for other countries also to withdraw.

In the aftermath of the Durban conference, The National spoke to Achim Steiner, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme, who was visiting Abu Dhabi last week. Born in Brazil, educated in the UK and of German heritage, Mr Steiner is an advocate of green economies - and says they can take off even in today's sober financial climate.

Is Durban enough?

We need to in the next eight to nine years bring emissions down to 44 gigatonnes. That's 44 billion tonnes of carbon per annum. At the moment we're already at 50 and we're actually heading towards 56. So you can see that we're actually going in completely the wrong direction.

That is why science must be the determining factor of how we organise our economies, the kinds of political choices we make. What concerns me is when … people abdicate from their own responsibility, and that is putting the whole planet in peril.

Were you disappointed by the compromise in Durban and by Canada's decision to quit Kyoto?

No. In view of how of how many had talked down Durban and how many had already declared the climate change negotiating platform either paralysed or dead, I think Durban surprised them. In terms of what Durban started off from, you have to be pleasantly surprised. In terms of where we need to be with emissions reductions in the next seven to eight to nine years, Durban hasn't answered that question.

Given that some see emissions-cutting targets as a limitation to economic development, are these workable models?

If we continue to view climate change as a limitation on our future development model, then the discussion has to be a different one than the ones that are being conducted now. For a generation or two from now, it will seem rather pitiful that people argued about decoupling economic growth from emissions growth as a challenge, when the world will live in a 3 to 4 degree warming world where sea level will have risen by more than a metre.

To deal with those consequences, that is what is going to undermine development in the future.

What we are talking about today in many respects is decoupling economic growth from emissions. It's actually an opportunity also. There's enormous opportunities for new technologies, for new management approaches, for new kinds of mobility. And people constantly say: "Well it might add 5 or 10 per cent to the price of energy".

As an economist, I have to say this is a ludicrous argument in a period when we've seen the oil price more than double - sometimes in less that 24 months. And the economy has not come to a standstill.

What we need at the beginning of the 21st century is an efficiency drive in our economy. We need to pollute less, use resources more efficiently and essentially stop wasting and compromising future development opportunities.

Do we need a higher oil price to facilitate that movement?

I wouldn't put it quite as crudely as that, although clearly fossil fuel prices need to reflect more accurately the true cost that they're causing. When an airplane ticket on the weekend costs less than a taxi ride to the airport, people will hop on the plane. The question is who pays the cost for those emissions later on, because it is the taxpayer who has to pay for either adaptation or mitigation measures, not the person who travels.

What we are saying is, let the price of fuel reflect its true cost. And then the market in addition to that will bring in the scarcity issue. Is oil running out or gas becoming more expensive?

Right now, the cost of fuels in many parts of the world do not reflect their true cost to society.

How can governments do this in the financial crisis?

In practical terms, the governments, their ability to pre-finance some of these transitions is being challenged, whether from the point of view of the finance minister or the central banks.

That, in a sense, is a regrettable moment in time because we would have all wished that this is the moment when countries, governments and the private sector can really invest in these transitions. But in the financial crisis it is so much more difficult to achieve that. So yes, it will be a dampener. But I also think people are over-exaggerating it because the logic of this transition is ultimately so compelling that even through the financial crisis it will continue to evolve.

Can green economies work in oil-producing nations?

Not only can they, I think it is one of the greatest hopes of the economic boom that is currently driving the region, in terms of the revenue from having found oil and gas reserves being used to grow an economy for the future. I'm delighted that I'm in Abu Dhabi, where things such as Masdar are an example of how visionary planning for the future of these economies is beginning to be implemented.

Masdar as you mentioned is a big priority in Abu Dhabi. Recently though, it cut 9 per cent of its staff, and it is clear that the company has its own financial considerations, which may be part of the larger economic situation. So how can green economies grow in the kind of financial environment that we see today?

The remarkable thing is that key elements of the technology frontier of the green economy have survived the economic crisis much more resiliently than some of the traditional industries. Remember, the car industry in Europe and North America got billions [in] bailout packages. Banking systems that are supposed to make their own profits, generate their own businesses and also take their own risks have had to be bailed out with, again, hundreds of billions of dollars. Meanwhile, the renewable-energy sector in 2010 surpassed all records of history: more than US$210 billion [Dh771.33bn] in new investments in that sector, more than oil gas and coal combined.

So you can see that here is an example of how a new technology is now competitive and is being given a fair chance. Because let us remember: every year, the world has been subsidising fossil fuels by roughly $500bn to $600bn … And if you take all the subsidies around renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency in the world, they're roughly around $100bn, so one fifth of that. So even in this economic crisis, the sectors are in a sense thriving. But having said that, it is not surprising when the whole of Europe is in turmoil, when international financial markets are struggling, that also means that companies such as Masdar will have to make some cutbacks, because that is the economic climate in which we operate.

Investors may not be willing or feel secure enough to put a lot of money down based on what we've seen come out of Durban since the language will not be decided for another four years. Plus the solar industry has been hurting, with the case of Solyndra in the US filing for bankruptcy and the share price of some European solar panel makers falling. Can alternatives investment continue to grow?

First of all the markets are expanding very rapidly. One, because new technologies have become available, and secondly because policies are correcting for the past discrimination against them.

So there is no question that we are moving towards a low-carbon economy. Low-carbon technologies, low-carbon infrastructure will become much more important in order to manage that paradigm shift. And in that sense the green economy is not just an alternative universe, it's about how do we do everything we do today more efficiently with less pollution.

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New process leads to panic among jobseekers

As a UAE-based travel agent who processes tourist visas from the Philippines, Jennifer Pacia Gado is fielding a lot of calls from concerned travellers just now. And they are all asking the same question.  

“My clients are mostly Filipinos, and they [all want to know] about good conduct certificates,” says the 34-year-old Filipina, who has lived in the UAE for five years.

Ms Gado contacted the Philippines Embassy to get more information on the certificate so she can share it with her clients. She says many are worried about the process and associated costs – which could be as high as Dh500 to obtain and attest a good conduct certificate from the Philippines for jobseekers already living in the UAE. 

“They are worried about this because when they arrive here without the NBI [National Bureau of Investigation] clearance, it is a hassle because it takes time,” she says.

“They need to go first to the embassy to apply for the application of the NBI clearance. After that they have go to the police station [in the UAE] for the fingerprints. And then they will apply for the special power of attorney so that someone can finish the process in the Philippines. So it is a long process and more expensive if you are doing it from here.”

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
How to invest in gold

Investors can tap into the gold price by purchasing physical jewellery, coins and even gold bars, but these need to be stored safely and possibly insured.

A cheaper and more straightforward way to benefit from gold price growth is to buy an exchange-traded fund (ETF).

Most advisers suggest sticking to “physical” ETFs. These hold actual gold bullion, bars and coins in a vault on investors’ behalf. Others do not hold gold but use derivatives to track the price instead, adding an extra layer of risk. The two biggest physical gold ETFs are SPDR Gold Trust and iShares Gold Trust.

Another way to invest in gold’s success is to buy gold mining stocks, but Mr Gravier says this brings added risks and can be more volatile. “They have a serious downside potential should the price consolidate.”

Mr Kyprianou says gold and gold miners are two different asset classes. “One is a commodity and the other is a company stock, which means they behave differently.”

Mining companies are a business, susceptible to other market forces, such as worker availability, health and safety, strikes, debt levels, and so on. “These have nothing to do with gold at all. It means that some companies will survive, others won’t.”

By contrast, when gold is mined, it just sits in a vault. “It doesn’t even rust, which means it retains its value,” Mr Kyprianou says.

You may already have exposure to gold miners in your portfolio, say, through an international ETF or actively managed mutual fund.

You could spread this risk with an actively managed fund that invests in a spread of gold miners, with the best known being BlackRock Gold & General. It is up an incredible 55 per cent over the past year, and 240 per cent over five years. As always, past performance is no guide to the future.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Haltia.ai
Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

Results

Stage 5:

1. Jonas Vingegaard (DEN) Team Jumbo-Visma  04:19:08

2. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) UAE Team Emirates  00:00:03

3. Adam Yates (GBR) Ineos Grenadiers

4. Sergio Higuita (COL) EF Education-Nippo 00:00:05

5. Joao Almeida (POR) Deceuninck-QuickStep 00:00:06

General Classification:

1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) UAE Team Emirates 17:09:26

2.  Adam Yates (GBR) Ineos Grenadiers 00:00:45

3. Joao Almeida (POR) Deceuninck-QuickStep 00:01:12

4. Chris Harper (AUS) Team Jumbo-Visma 00:01:54

5. Neilson Powless (USA) EF Education-Nippo 00:01:56

MEDIEVIL (1998)

Developer: SCE Studio Cambridge
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Console: PlayStation, PlayStation 4 and 5
Rating: 3.5/5

Men from Barca's class of 99

Crystal Palace - Frank de Boer

Everton - Ronald Koeman

Manchester City - Pep Guardiola

Manchester United - Jose Mourinho

Southampton - Mauricio Pellegrino

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

The five pillars of Islam

1. Fasting

2. Prayer

3. Hajj

4. Shahada

5. Zakat 

MATCH INFO

Uefa Champions League semi-finals, first leg
Liverpool v Roma

When: April 24, 10.45pm kick-off (UAE)
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Live: BeIN Sports HD
Second leg: May 2, Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Abu Dhabi GP starting grid

1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)

3 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)

4 Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)

5 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)

6 Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

7 Romain Grosjean (Haas)

8 Charles Leclerc (Sauber)

9 Esteban Ocon (Force India)

10 Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)

11 Carlos Sainz (Renault)

12 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber)

13 Kevin Magnussen (Haas)

14 Sergio Perez (Force India)

15 Fernando Alonso (McLaren)

16 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso)

17 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso)

18 Stoffe Vandoorne (McLaren)

19 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams)

20 Lance Stroll (Williams)

Drishyam 2

Directed by: Jeethu Joseph

Starring: Mohanlal, Meena, Ansiba, Murali Gopy

Rating: 4 stars

Key developments

All times UTC+4

Specs

Price, base: Dhs850,000
Engine: 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Power: 591bhp @ 7,500rpm
Torque: 760Nm @ 3,000rpm
Fuel economy, combined: 11.3L / 100km

The specs: 2018 Range Rover Velar R-Dynamic HSE

Price, base / as tested: Dh263,235 / Dh420,000

Engine: 3.0-litre supercharged V6

Power 375hp @ 6,500rpm

Torque: 450Nm @ 3,500rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Fuel consumption, combined: 9.4L / 100kms

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

The years Ramadan fell in May

1987

1954

1921

1888

Our legal consultants

Name: Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.

Sarfira

Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5