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UAE Takes Lead on Tackling Climate Change and Environmental Crises in the Middle East

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Political and business leaders today renewed their commitment to urgent action to tackle environmental crises and climate change, as the Middle East and North Africa region faces multiple challenges from water scarcity, air pollution, waste management and climate migration.

“We need leaders who lead by example,” declared Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment of the United Arab Emirates. “We should not wait until someone else tells us whether he believes in climate change or not. We have to roll up our sleeves and start the work we need to do.”

The United Arab Emirates has set a target to increase the share of clean energy in the total energy mix from 25% to 50% by 2050. Renewables were too expensive 15 years ago, said Al Zeyoudi, but now they can generate electricity more cheaply than natural gas. The UAE is also investing in energy efficiency, water conservation through humidity transfer and cloud seeding, and solid waste management.

Blended finance is vital to scale up investment in green opportunities, said Janet Heckman, Managing Director of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Region for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The EBRD has invested $30 billion to date in green projects, reducing carbon emissions by 100 million tonnes annually.

In the MENA region, 60% of EBRD’s funds have gone into green investments – including Egypt’s Benban Solar Park, which will be the world’s largest solar installation when complete, generating 1,650 MW at a cost of just $0.02 per megawatt. Benban has been financed through a blend of EBRD money and investments from more than 30 private-sector developers. “It is very important to have consistent government policy dialogue to make the conditions attractive for private investors,” said Heckman.

Germany provides one model for mapping a pathway towards a cleaner future. It has moved out of nuclear-fuelled electricity altogether and renewables now account for 40% of the energy mix. “Governments have to give a concrete framework and the right incentives for investors,” said Rita Schwarzeluehr-Sutter, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Protection and Nuclear Safety of Germany. The advantage of renewables is that they can supply power through decentralized systems in countries with no established power grid, she said.

The green economy also provides great opportunities for entrepreneurs. Water scarcity and food insecurity affect 2 billion people living on the 40% of the Earth’s surface that is dry land or desert – and climate change is aggravating the problem. However, Atle Idland, Managing Director of the UAE-based Desert Control Middle East, has pioneered a way to enhance the capacity of dry soils to retain water. This enables farmers to maintain or increase their crop yields while using 52% less water. The company is aiming to treat 5 million square kilometres of desert by 2030, with a direct impact on the livelihoods of 100 million people. “The ROIs are good,” said Idland: “It comes down to private-sector adoption – do you want to be an early adopter or a laggard?”

Recognizing the potential of technology to support the transition to the circular economy within the MENA region and globally, the United Arab Emirates, represented by the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, in partnership with the Ministry of Climate and Environment and the Ministry of State for Artificial Intelligence, has committed $1 million to support SCALE 360. The initiative of the World Economic Forum aims to unlock the potential of the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for the circular economy.

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UNIDO supports Budapest Appeal to prevent and manage looming water crises

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LI Yong, the Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) acted as a panelist during the opening session of Budapest Water Summit 2019, which was convened under the motto ‘Preventing Water Crises’ and which aimed at promoting solutions to tackle the emerging water crises.

“Industries can be instrumental to prevent any kind of water crisis: in situations where water is scarce, the application of resource efficient and cleaner production allows industries to drastically reduce their own water consumption”, said LI Yong. “In situations where water is too polluted, green industries can offer solutions for the cost and energy effective treatment of municipal, agricultural and industrial waste water. Even in situations where abundant water results in floods, industries can engage as water stewards and drive the collaborative process of restoring water regulating eco-system services”.

The UNIDO Director General further emphasized the need for pro-active cooperation, dedicated and well-concerted efforts as well as considerable resources. At the same time, and given the importance of water for sustainable development, Li urged not to underestimate the importance of these efforts.

“The United Nations Industrial Development Organization will continue its efforts to support industries to become environmentally friendly”, said LI Yong. “In this way, industries will play an active role to prevent water crises, in terms of water becoming too little, too much or too polluted”.

During the closing session of the Summit, the Budapest Appeal was presented that formulates messages and guidelines for the international community to prevent and manage the looming water crises. In addition, the Appeal provides a comprehensive summary of findings and recommendations from the Summit and introduces the preliminary online consultation process.

The Summit gathered over 2,200 participants from 117 countries in Budapest, including Hungarian President János Áder and Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen as well as numerous ministers, secretaries of state, representatives of United Nations organizations and heads of multilateral financial institutions.

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African financial centres step up efforts on green and sustainable finance

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When we talk about climate change and sustainable development, the continent that is often highlighted as facing the greatest socio-economic challenges is Africa.

It is in many African nations that the impacts of climate change are hitting the hardest and that communities need the most support to ensure food security, decent housing, access to clean energy and so much more, including jobs for the ballooning youth unemployment which is seeing more than 12 million youth enter the labour market each and every year.

The will and the knowledge exist to turn things around. A survey for Africa Climate Week in March showed that most African nations were already starting to implement their mitigation and adaptation commitments under the Paris Agreement.

But over half of the countries have struggled to mobilize climate finance, less than one quarter have a financing strategy, and only one third have appropriate financial instruments.

There is some movement. The World Bank Group has promised US$22.5 billion over 2021-2025 in climate support in Africa, while nations are increasingly able to secure money from the Green Climate Fund.

Private finance is desperately needed, however, which is why the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)-convened International Network of Financial Centres for Sustainability (FC4S) is launching a new work programme for the continent.

Financial Centres for Sustainability, a global network of 30 financial centres, will work with its five Africa member centres—Abidjan, Cairo, Casablanca, Lagos and Nairobi—to encourage strategic action, collaborate with peers across the continent, and facilitate engagement with major international hubs.

“There is an appetite for investing in Africa, in recognition of the fact that of all the investment bets you can make, this is the one that is sure to come up trumps,” said Patrick Njoroge, Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya, at the launch of the new work programme at the Financial Centres for Sustainability’s annual meeting in Geneva. “There is also an appetite to use the members’ investment muscle to do good and help defend the planet against the ravages of climate change and environmental degradation.”

There is, despite many old-fashioned notions about Africa, plenty of private money in the continent. Nairobi, for example, is a thriving regional hub for banks, businesses and entrepreneurs with money to invest.

But there are many barriers to boosting sustainable finance in African countries, including a lack of clear policies and regulatory frameworks on climate change, a lack of awareness on the sources of climate finance and limited engagement from the private sector.

These barriers, and the different levels of development on the sustainable finance agenda in African financial centres, requires a coordinated strategic effort to help mainstream sustainable finance as a foundational element of financial centre development strategies.

The programme will help the centres assess the green finance landscape in their countries and set strategies for sustainable finance development. It will provide technical assistance on specific green and sustainable finance projects, including support on the development of a green bond market in Abidjan, activating the green bond market in Egypt, and a proposal to advance “green tagging” of bank loans in Lagos.

“Financial centres generate a powerful clustering effect by concentrating banking, capital markets, investing, insurance, professional services with policy and regulation,” said Mohammed Omran, Executive Chairman, Financial Regulatory Authority of Egypt. “Financial centres in Africa are no different. We have a real opportunity to turn African centres into global green hubs and provide the finance the continent needs for a brighter future.”

Financial Centres for Sustainability will also increase policy dialogue and engagement, and collaboration between African centres and the rest of the international network.

Specific actions will include setting clear definitions for green or sustainable finance, integrating sustainability priorities relevant for a given national context into the design and execution of strategies, and identifying options to create strong enabling environments to attract international investment into green and sustainable investment options in local markets.

The message is that with the over 3.5 trillion of financing gap for both the nationally determined contributions and the Sustainable Development Goals implementation, social-driven financing will not be optimal. Africa as a region urgently needs to move from this socially inclined financing to investment financing where returns are environmental, social, economic and financial. This should build on already ongoing initiatives like the innovative financing mechanisms across the continent like the risk-sharing facilities coming up across the continent.

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Major Environmental Groups Call On Businesses To Lead On Climate Policy

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Eleven leading environmental and sustainable business organizations published an open letter in the New York Times today, urging the CEOs of Corporate America to step up their engagement on climate policy. Signatories include the heads of BSR, C2ES, CDP, Ceres, Conservation International, Environmental Defense Fund, The Climate Group, The Nature Conservancy, the Union of Concerned Scientists, World Resources Institute, and World Wildlife Fund.

In the letter, the organizations call on businesses to adopt a science-based climate policy agenda that is aligned with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and with the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

The letter highlights three essential actions for businesses to execute this agenda:

  1. Advocate for policies at the national, subnational and/or sectoral level that are consistent with achieving net-zero emissions by 2050;
  2. Align their trade associations’ climate policy advocacy to be consistent with the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050; and
  3. Allocate advocacy spending to advance climate policies, not obstruct them.

Additionally, the signatories call for “robust disclosure of the above actions to ensure transparency and demonstrate leadership, as well as strong corporate governance to enable sustained, strategic and effective engagement in climate policy.”

The recommended actions follow a statement from 200 institutional investors, with a combined $6.5 trillion in assets under management, who recently called on publicly traded corporations to align their climate lobbying with the goals of the Paris Agreement. They also build on momentum from the U.N. Global Climate Action Summit in September, when many companies announced ambitious commitments to reduce their emissions to net zero by 2050 and unprecedented global youth strikes demanded accountability from business leaders.

Further, the groups’ call for corporate leadership on climate policy is in line with the goals of upcoming Santiago Climate Change Conference (COP 25), which will focus on increasing ambitious actions to tackle climate change.

“Corporate voluntary science-based commitments have spurred progress and innovation. But alone they’re not enough. We need strong national policy and regulations to protect business and their customers from the greatest risks of climate change. And we need the voice of business to insist that our government leaders deliver the policies we need. ” said Carter Roberts, President and CEO of  World Wildlife Fund, United States. “It’s time for business to make this a policy priority – not only for their own government relations teams but also for the trade organizations that represent their interests.”

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