The public and private sector must battle climate change together

Government pledges are not the only way to avoid runaway global warming. Businesses and local organisations also have a role to play

Namib-Naukluft Park, Namibia --- Aerial View of Sand Dunes at Sossusvlei --- Image by © Martin Harvey/Corbis
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Earlier this month, the world received an alarming reminder from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The global science body's latest report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C from pre-industrial levels would require drastic cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade.

Even staying below the 2°C limit – generally considered as the ultimate guardrail for avoiding dangerous climate change – will require major economic transformations across the world. If governments collectively meet the emission-reduction pledges they have so far made under the 2015 Paris Agreement, we will be on track to 3°C of warming.

In simple terms, a huge gap remains between what is required by science and what has been permitted by intergovernmental politics. By 2030, this emissions gap would be equal to a quarter of global emissions today.

The good news is that we already have the technologies to close this gap in a cost-effective manner, as noted in the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report 2017, including by increasing energy efficiency and scaling up renewable energy.

The other piece of positive news is that government pledges to the UN are not the only way to avoid runaway climate change – even if they remain the central component in sending the necessary signals to markets on the expected pace and scale of the economic transformation.

According to the UNEP, additional voluntary emission reductions by companies and other non-state actors, such as municipalities or local governments, have significant potential to bridge an important part of the expected emissions gap up to 2030.

For example, a report launched in September by Governor of California Jerry Brown and the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Climate Action Michael Bloomberg concluded that existing climate commitments and policies by cities, states and businesses alone would fulfil two-thirds of the United States’ national emission-reduction pledge for 2025 made in 2015.

For several years, the UAE has been a strong supporter of climate action by non-state actors. Among many other things, the UAE's Minister of Climate Change and Environment Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi was one of the founding members of the UN Climate Action Leadership Network. This high-level group was set up in 2017 to support co-operation across national and subnational governments, businesses and civil society for high-impact climate action before 2020.

Since last year, the UAE has had in place a long-term National Climate Change Plan, which contains a Private-Sector-Driven Innovative Diversification Programme as one of its three main priority areas. The programme is simultaneously aimed at advancing economic diversification, creating jobs and limiting industrial greenhouse gas emissions. The plan sets the dual goal of supporting both the "greening" of existing industries and the creation of new, fully green ones.

Simultaneously, the UAE’s private sector is demonstrating an increasing interest in aligning its operations with both the challenges and the opportunities brought about by climate change. And there is eagerness among the UAE’s business community to do more.

So, how can the government reach its ambitious climate and green goals with the support of the private sector? The UAE’s is the region’s most dynamic economy. It has set up a number of successful semi-state-owned enterprises, it is the regional hub for multinationals, and it attracts expertise from around the world. A number of the UAE’s home-grown companies also operate beyond the nation’s borders. Is there a way to leverage all these international interactions for more ambitious climate action?

A recent study conducted at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy examined this potential and concluded with a number of suggestions. One idea is to foster the presence of active domestic green business coalitions. These could enable a larger number of companies to share knowledge on industry- or sector-wide challenges and opportunities. Some successful examples already exist in the clean energy sector, but they are still lacking in many others.

These peer platforms could also serve as go-to places for government entities when they wish to seek input into sectoral climate policies and to identify existing market barriers.

There are also various existing government platforms that seek to engage the private sector in climate action and sustainability. These include those created by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority. These different platforms could seek to actively exchange best practices and co-ordinate their activities.

Another idea is to involve multinational companies that are demonstrating climate leadership internationally. The government could encourage them to set similar aspirational targets or to apply the same performance standards at UAE level. This could be encouraged, for example, with opportunities for visibility and leadership-profiling at government-sponsored business events.

Incentives for companies to adopt more climate-friendly practices could also be created through setting up a private-sector climate action data bank. Such a database would also help improve the availability of more segmented data for better-targeted government policies.

As the UAE prepares its new, 2020 contribution to the Paris Agreement, engaging in parallel with its companies can support even more ambitious action on emissions at home and abroad, in line with the UAE’s regional leadership role in this area.

Dr Mari Luomi is senior research fellow at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy. Mashael Al Ansari is climate change specialist at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment