Green recovery business opportunities in the UAE – seven ideas
May 1, 2020, 8:18 am
By Dr. Mari Luomi
The UAE already has a roadmap in place for a green economy. How could it support post-Covid-19 recovery, and what business opportunities could a green and just transition offer? This article puts forward seven suggestions.
In the UAE, many private sector companies are breathing a sigh of relief with the news of the easing of restrictions for small businesses, malls and public transport services. With the coronavirus curve peak possibly still some weeks away, this optimism remains cautious.
What is certain, however, is that a growing number of UAE companies will eventually find themselves back in business in a world that has changed in many unexpected ways. Numerous industries are likely to bounce back relatively quickly, such as restaurants and retailers. But airlines, hotels or the meetings and events industry face a less certain future. Construction too could suffer if government spending follows oil prices lower.
Building forward better
Preserving jobs will be a top priority for the post-Covid-19 recovery not just in the UAE but worldwide. But many fear that this could come at the cost of environmental sustainability if stimulus spending enables a return to our emission-heavy lifestyles, with their dangerously high pollution and greenhouse gas emission levels.
Support has been growing for recovery policies that bring positive impacts for both people and the planet. For example, the European Commission has promised to link ‘every euro’ spent on recovery measures to green and digital transitions. Closer to home, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has called for a ‘Global Green New Deal’ bringing together climate goals, jobs and social equity.
Companies will play a key role in making the recovery a success and turning it into a green, just transition. Generating income and jobs and reducing environmental impacts are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they are a sound business strategy that can generate multiple co-benefits.
Groundwork by the government
At the same time, governments need to enable companies to unleash their green potential. They can do this through regulation and standards that level the playing field, economic incentives and disincentives that guide markets, and ambitious policies that give certainty for investors.
The UAE already has in place a winning framework for green and just recovery. The UAE Green Agenda 2015-2030 has five strategic objectives, each supported by implementation-oriented programmes:
- a competitive knowledge economy (innovation and diversification);
- social development and quality of life (infrastructure and workforce);
- sustainable environment and valued natural resources;
- clean energy and climate action; and
- green life and sustainable resource use (efficiency and transport).
Not surprisingly, employment potential in many of these areas is significant. For example, IRENA estimates that renewable energy alone could generate close to 100,000 jobs in the UAE by 2030.
Seven ideas for a green and just recovery
The world has a long way to go before the pandemic is fully defeated. Building a more sustainable future while recovering from the crisis will require immense effort and foresight. But companies and governments can join forces to shape events, rather than being overtaken by them. Opportunities are already on the horizon waiting to be seized, and many more are there to be invented. Here is a ‘strawperson proposal’, comprising seven ideas up for grabs:
The need for social distancing is expected to continue over a long period. This will entail more space in public transport vehicles and, therefore expanded public transport which in turn will generate large numbers of green jobs. This could include new fleets of e-buses, and innovative last-mile solutions. It may also encourage kickstarting the long-awaited Abu Dhabi Metro or Dubai-Abu Dhabi passenger train link – or even the Hyperloop. In many cases the government will need to lead but companies can accelerate the transition by offering related services and solutions. A major transition towards cleaner modes of transport will be necessary if we are to keep air pollution at healthier levels.
Demand for delivery services is set to continue. Imaginative solutions to support small neighbourhood stores in a sustainable way (such as e-scooter deliveries) are already being rolled out. While malls may retain their role in the UAE’s social life, neighbourhood stores offering sustainable food and other products could support more community-oriented living and sustainable consumption. Some companies might choose to prioritise e-commerce and generate important cost and energy savings through reduced retail space needs.
With telecommuting expected to become more common even post-Covid-19, demand for connectivity with services and amenities will be on the rise. Major developers, together with architecture companies, can play a crucial role in preventing further urban sprawl (should demand for individual housing increase) by (re)creating urban spaces that are safe but also reduce emissions and foster communities. To support this, the government could explore more stringent green building standards and incentivise green retrofits in existing buildings.
4. Energy and related industries
With greenhouse gas emissions dropping significantly, it is important to act early to make sure they do not surge back to pre-crisis levels. (To avert dangerous climate change, global emissions must go down at least 2.7% per year for the next decade.) Now would be the time for the UAE’s clean energy community – major companies and business networks – to engage in a dialogue with government agencies to make sure renewables play an expanded role in the economic recovery package. Industries at large could now show leadership by setting ambitious science-based targets for their energy use or emissions.
Confidence in global supply chains has been severely impacted by the shortages of medical materials seen in recent weeks worldwide. In a country like the UAE that imports 90% of its food, there will likely be a doubling down of efforts to boost domestic food security through sustainable agriculture and related innovations. There is money to be made even in reducing food waste.
One of the sectors hit hardest by the crisis is tourism. The impact of worldwide flight restrictions and a fear of travelling to other countries may persist longer than people expect. Domestic tourism, however, can help compensate for some of the losses. The UAE has a nascent eco-tourism industry, which can be expanded to cater for residents and visitors from neighbouring countries. Gulf residents are often eager to explore enjoy local biodiversity and reconnect with nature. Think, for example, of the Via Ferrata at Jebel Jais, mountain biking in Hatta, kayaking in Abu Dhabi’s Eastern Mangroves or the Al Wathba Wetland Reserve.
7. Crosscutting green jobs
Opportunities for green growth and recovery also exist beyond green sectors. Every company can generate savings or revenue by focusing on environmental footprints and eco-innovations. When companies in the UAE think about ways to regain lost revenue, sustainability managers and engineers can play an important role. Not only can they help identify inefficiencies and thereby take out costs, but they can also innovate new areas to generate revenue streams from greener products and services – the essence of green growth.
Published on GloballyToday