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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 28 January 2021

If 2020 gave us pause, 2021 is a time to act on climate change

Al Zorah nature reserve in Ajman. In an indirect way, the pandemic gave biodiversity a chance to thrive. But we need a long-term plan to sustain it.
Al Zorah nature reserve in Ajman. In an indirect way, the pandemic gave biodiversity a chance to thrive. But we need a long-term plan to sustain it.

2020 was truly an unusual year. When I reflect on this time last year, I am reminded that we are living in a very different world today. A world that has been changed by a raging global pandemic, which has so far claimed almost two million lives and infected nearly 50 million people. Those on the frontlines have sacrificed so much, and I cannot thank them enough for the tremendous courage and resilience they have demonstrated during this health crisis.

As we bid farewell to a year of challenges, we must not forget that it was not all bad; there is always a silver lining. Although change is uncomfortable, many man-made constructs, such as the concept of having to be physically present in an office being paramount to productivity, have been tested and proven to be redundant for the most part. I am optimistic about what 2021 will bring, and that our learnings will not only guide us into the new year, but also benefit humankind in the future.

We have had the time to slow down and take note of our lives. This has made us much more self-aware. We have learnt to appreciate human connection and prioritise what really matters to us.

People pose for photographs in front of yachts and ferries as they sail on Sydney Harbour during Boxing Day this year. Human contact has been a challenge for most people in a year ravaged by coronavirus pandemic. Getty Images
People pose for photographs in front of yachts and ferries as they sail on Sydney Harbour during Boxing Day this year. Human contact has been a challenge for most people in a year ravaged by coronavirus pandemic. Getty Images

From an environmental perspective, this pandemic has given our planet a chance to recover. The quality of air has improved, biodiversity has been given a chance to thrive, and many countries and cities are revisiting their strategies to build resilience and find harmony with the environment.

With the slowdown in air travel and intermittent lockdowns around the world, we have seen a drop in CO2 emissions. This year alone we have seen the record price in carbon credits selling for about $39 for a tonne of sequestered carbon – that is an increase of 31 per cent. According to the IMF, in order to meet the Paris Agreement on climate change, a tonne of carbon should be priced at $75.

The onus is on organisations, regardless of sector or size, as well as individuals to make a concerted effort to reduce their carbon footprint. The backbone of any economy is small and medium-sized enterprises, and it is essential that these businesses be supported in every way possible. This year was particularly difficult for startups and SMEs. However, more conscious shopping habits resulting from the pandemic have encouraged consumers to support local, which has also had the added benefit of helping to reduce the carbon footprint for many households.

2020 has shown us that when global supply chains are impacted, resources need to be managed differently. We are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of moving towards a circular economy, where products are no longer disposed of in a landfill upon expiration. Instead, we need to consider alternative actions, which includes recycling and upcycling items that we no longer use.

The launch of the Hope Probe from Japan's Tanegashima Space Centre earlier this year. AFP
The launch of the Hope Probe from Japan's Tanegashima Space Centre earlier this year. AFP

Covid-19 has also taught us that diverse thinking on corporate boards is essential in tackling crises – whether as immediate as a global pandemic, or as long-term as climate change. In fact, a number of reports have shown that companies with gender-diverse boards fared significantly better in their financial performance than others during the pandemic.

I am proud of the way the UAE has dealt with this unprecedented crisis. Seeing the collective and collaborative measures taken by various entities to ensure the community's safety and security has been heartwarming. And true to the fundamentals that our nation was built on, even amid a pandemic, we have continued to innovate and achieve a number of commendable firsts – such as the Hope Mars probe, for example.

Our cartoonist Shadi Ghanim's take on the climate crisis
Our cartoonist Shadi Ghanim's take on the climate crisis

We have clearly shown what can be achieved when we work together during these difficult times, be it on a domestic or global level. We now need to work together to find a solution for a bigger threat to humanity: climate change.

With the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, set to take place in November, I believe the meeting will serve as a catalyst for change and a platform that will create more dialogue and, most importantly, action towards meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

We have only one habitable planet and every individual action that damages the Earth affects us all, as does every individual action towards conservation. My hope for 2021 is that we will continue to work together, rather than in silos, as we strive for a global green recovery.

Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan is chief executive officer of Alliances for Global Sustainability

Published: January 1, 2021 09:00 AM

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