The impact of environmental degradation brought forth by human actions done in the name of progress over decades has given rise to a new socio-economic development paradigm that highlights the need to equally promote social equality, environmental sustainability, and economic stability – all of which are closely intertwined with each other.
This paradigm, called green economy, did not come from a vacuum but rather as a result of the mounting need to adopt a new strategic approach that drives significant growth but with careful regard to the environment and sustainable use of our finite natural resources.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) advocate for a green economy transition. One-third of the agenda’s 169 targets relate to the green economy concept as per the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
While this is easy to say, there is nothing simple about leaving behind the old ways of doing things to make a landmark shift to this form of economic framework. The transformation, like any other change, is replete with challenges.
Opposition arises when it becomes clear that the transition entails getting rid of the business-as-usual behaviour. Some of the deeply-entrenched business processes and practices, including those adopted by energy companies that for the most part are not paying for the externalities they cause, have to go if we are to successfully arrive at our target sustainability destination.
Another challenge, apart from the threat of questionable business models, deals with green investments and funding. Ambitious projects and initiatives needed to build a green economy do not come cheap. Establishing key infrastructure and facilities as well as deploying technologies usually require heavy investments and commitment from both the public and private sectors. In this regard, governments and businesses are enjoined to earmark substantial capital funding to help fuel and sustain the green economy movement. Boosting investments in bankable smart environmental projects, for instance, is the key to accelerate our sustainability journey.
It helps that more than 9,500 companies, up from 8,000 companies in 2018, are already part of the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. Under this initiative, the member organisations have voluntarily pledged to adopt and report on the implementation of sustainable and socially responsible policies. With this pledge, we hope to see a significant increase in the needed green investments and funding today and in the years to come.
Pushing for sustainability that goes beyond the conventional factors, including cost-saving and risk management, also remains a challenging task. Going ‘beyond’ means continuously developing and improving our capacity to generate innovative solutions to the world’s urgent sustainability issues. It also entails companies adopting and embracing green technologies.
Innovative solutions are part and parcel of a genuine green economy. In particular, we need innovative solutions and unique practices that inspire change and deliver, not just promise, concrete actions. In the UAE, several institutions, especially in the academic sector, encourage innovative research, which is helping to bring tangible solutions to some of our most pressing challenges, including water, energy and food security. This helps build human capital, advance the scientific understanding, and contributes to the development of a sustainable green economy in the UAE.
Forming a permanent collaboration among international stakeholders is also an endeavor that can be quite challenging. Sustained international cooperation is crucial to determining and formulating unified actions towards our shared environmental sustainability goals.
We need to continue our dialogues as well as build partnerships to create a flourishing and sustainable environment that caters to the current and future requirements. Let’s continue to collaborate and connect to ensure that our actions reflect the needs of the times.
Climate change affects everyone. Therefore, we should join forces, contribute, and play our part as the green economy remains the only viable way forward. Challenges abound but so do opportunities.
Alejandro Ríos is the Director, Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium