Reap benefits from climate change


ByKevin Scott

Companies across the UAE are adapting their business models to capitalise on new opportunities created by climate change.

Keith Clarke
Keith Clarke

Many firms see great potential for investment after experiencing incidences of extreme weather with a UN study forecasting that between $49 billion (Dh179.83 billion) and $171 billion will be acquired annually by 2030 to deal with the issue.

The threat posed by climate change led world leaders to sign a deal known as the Copenhagen Accord at UN-brokered talks in the Danish capital in December 2009.

But the US-led initiative, which was also signed by, China, India, Brazil and South Africa, has been criticised because it contains no reference to a legally binding agreement.

The deal recognised the need to limit global temperatures rising no more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels and promised to deliver $30 billion of aid for developing nations over the next three years.

As a result, many businesses are actively planning to take advantage of new opportunities created by the climate change movement with renewable energy and new green building technologies among the top priorities.

Keith Clarke, Chief Executive Officer of Atkins, one the world’s largest design and engineering consultancies, recently addressed local businesses at a trade event in Dubai about the key issues facing the business community in the field of climate change. He told delegates that he saw a rate of progress in the UAE “that was quite stunning” in terms of businesses adding climate adaptation measures to their continuity plans.

Atkins has worked on numerous key projects in the UAE including the Burj Al Arab, The Address Hotel and the Lighthouse Tower at Dubai International Financial Centre. The company was also the lead designer responsible for all civil works associated with the Red and Green Lines of the Dubai Metro.

Gulf News spoke to Clarke about the threat posed by climate change to emerging economies and the new investment opportunities on the horizon for UAE firms as countries across the world move towards a more sustainable economy.

Gulf News: What projects are Atkins actively working on in the UAE and wider GCC region?

Keith Clarke: We have got 1,700 people working in the region. We have been here for 30 years and we will be here for another 30 years. We are involved in the expansion of Jeddah airport in Saudi Arabia as well as the UAE’s Etihad Rail project. We see a rate of progress that is quite stunning from each of the emirates, who are increasingly raising standards and expectations [in terms of climate change adaptation]. The UAE is really quite progressive in terms of planning infrastructure in an efficient way.

How important is it that developing cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi ensure all new buildings are Leed certified and meet green standards?

It is unbelievably important and almost every company now has a green building council or code. Quite often, Europe looks at the Middle East and says ‘look how efficient they are’. Masdar City is a classic example because it is moving into a position whereby it is considered one of the world’s most advanced research and development projects in urban low-carbon design.

Do you think this region is behind the West in terms of facing up to the threat posed by climate change?

If you look at carbon emissions per capita, the start point is behind the West. But the rate change and improvements are ahead of the US; awareness of the issue in this part of the world is already beyond America and accelerating. The change and adaptability shown by the leadership of Gulf countries is equal to that being shown by world leaders [in the field of climate change], which is probably the UK and China at the moment.

The UAE has some of the world’s highest CO2 emissions per capita. What are the key issues facing the UAE in this respect? Are they unique or similar to the challenges facing the rest of the world?

The UAE clearly has a bigger water problem than other regions of the world. The UK, for example, is already looking at desalination plants in the south east of England, so it does face similar issues in terms of water scarcity and carbon content water. However, the UAE has the opportunity to create new infrastructure whereas the UK has to replate its infrastructure while simultaneously keeping it going, which is a completely different challenge. What the two countries have in common is that both require new buildings to be fit for purpose in a low carbon economy.

What is your view of Masdar City? Is it viewed as a benchmark in terms of the promotion and usage of renewable energy?

Masdar is tremendous because it integrates all the disciplines and skills of a low carbon environment and applies them to a small city with a continued learning curve. It is the most advanced research and development project of the built environment in the world. It is phenomenally sophisticated and groundbreaking in every sense.

What do you say to people who still remain sceptical about the concept of climate change?

The overwhelming scientific evidence is that climate change is real and we are beginning to see it manifest itself. You cannot get absolute proof but you do not have absolute proof of many other things that are based on probability. Why would you risk your children’s future on something that is highly likely to be radically bad for them? Even if you ignore climate change, which I think is absurd, we could not continue to develop a nine billion person planet with such an increasing energy intensity.

It is simply not workable; the mathematics never worked anyway. The situation was going to change regardless of climate change. However, what climate change does is give an incredibly urgent imperative to radically change the issue away from one of sustainability to one of actually reversing the damage we have already done. Climate change mitigation and adaptation is about making the market more perfect; it is about taking account of the real social and economic impacts.

You have gone on record as saying that life is about to become a lot more uncomfortable for many people in emerging economies. In what ways will people’s lives change?

If you look at the floods in Pakistan, thousands of people were killed and many more had their crops destroyed. Life for many people in emerging economies — even with two degrees — will become increasingly more fragile. We already see water shortages and crop failures in large parts of the world. We already see biodiversity adaptation moving at a slower rate than some of the temperature graphs.

These are really quite significant effects and we cannot actually quantify them. You cannot say that in three years time Africa will have a crop failing of 20 per cent; you cannot predict it in that nice predictable fashion of facts. That is not to say you cannot actually say it is a material and threatening issue that we must deal with.

That fact you cannot nail it as a fact in the future does not mean it will not happen. It is all in our self-interests to deal with these issues.