If ever there was a time for dialogue, it is now. As the World Government Summit in Dubai gathered pace on its second day, its diverse array of topics and speakers revealed how the region and the world are in a state of flux, facing risks and opportunities.
Some of those challenges were laid out yesterday by Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Cop28 President-designate, who said world needed a "major course correction” in its approach to climate change.
Dr Al Jaber, who is also Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, said the “hard reality” was that global emissions must fall 43 per cent by 2030. He told attendees that there needed to be a “shift from incremental steps to transformational progress”.
Cop28 – which will take place in the UAE later this year – will be the first global stocktake of climate action since the Paris Agreement of 2015, Dr Al Jaber said – but "we already know that we are way off track, we know we are playing catch up".
Acute crises – such as the devastation wrought in Turkey and Syria by last week’s earthquake – were also brought home to the summit, with a video message from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday stating that 31,600 people have died in the south of the country so far.
Mr Erdogan said Turkey received had messages of solidarity from more than 100 countries, including the UAE, and expressed gratitude for international attempts to aid the search, rescue and recovery effort.
Elsewhere at the summit there were accounts of challenges met. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi used his keynote speech to reveal that his first task as leader had been to address the desperation and loss of hope felt by many Egyptians during the turmoil of the Arab uprisings.
He described Egypt’s subsequent economic reforms as well as its attempts to tackle climate change and population growth. Last year the country hosted the Cop27 climate summit – a far cry from the uncertainty and unrest of a decade ago.
Despite the urgency of existential topics like the climate, the summit has also been a forum for ambition and optimism. On Monday, International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva described how Gulf economies were performing well due to the “relentless” pursuit of reforms and not just because of high oil and gas prices.
Award-winning British actor Idris Elba told attendees how smartphones and easy editing tools had democratised filmmaking, most significantly for young people in the developing world. And on the sidelines of the summit, Ahmed Bahrozyan, chief executive of Dubai’s Public Transport Agency, told The National that the emirate’s dream of a network of flying taxis could soon be realised.
But as technology like this – once confined to the realm of science fiction – gradually becomes a reality, the summit also heard from US pop star and entrepreneur will.i.am about how the tech field needs more people of colour who can program to reduce algorithm biases, moulding for the better the software and devices that are going to shape our lives.
Away from high-concept economics and technology, there has also been a focus on society and helping people stricken by catastrophe. Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organisation’s Health Emergencies Programme, who had recently returned from a trip to earthquake-hit Syria, told a session at the summit that although innovation was needed “we must remember that emergencies begin and end in our communities”.
The earthquake in Turkey and Syria, with all its devastation and loss of life, loomed large at this year’s event, with Unicef’s director of Global Private Fundraising and Partnerships, Carla Haddad Mardini, warning of the mental health toll on survivors – an issue that will last for many years.
Co-operating to overcome global challenges and make the most of opportunities was a key theme at the summit and it extended even into the realm of space exploration.
As governments and the private sector work ever more closely to explore space, the UAE’s Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation for Advanced Science and Technology, Omran Sharaf, told attendees that space organisations should not only sell services, but also “share knowledge openly” with emerging nations.
Climate, the economy, technology, space, health, international co-operation – the list of subjects discussed at the World Government Summit goes on. It reflects the breadth of issues facing a world in a state of rapid, irreversible change.
That the summit acts as an important forum for dialogue can be seen in the leading figures who are addressing it. Yesterday featured contributions from UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO and Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum.
The scale of the tasks and challenges ahead can seem overwhelming, but one thing is for sure – an international coming together of informed, experienced and expert voices will lead to a better outcome.