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Privatisation in the Gulf: the key to both recovery and diversification?

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With Saudi Arabia announcing plans to raise $55bn through its privatisation programme, other Gulf countries are similarly stepping up efforts to stimulate private investment in public assets and projects, with a view to strengthening state finances, spurring diversification and driving their respective Covid-19 recoveries.

In March this year Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers approved the long-awaited Private Sector Participation Law, which aims to increase both the privatisation of public sector assets and private sector participation in infrastructure projects.

The law will enter into force in July. Targeting 16 sectors, it will advance one of the core goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic development plan, namely an increase in the private sector’s contribution to GDP, from 40% to 65%.

The new law addresses various areas which have traditionally generated a degree of trepidation among potential investors, particularly foreign entities.

For example, among the principles it enshrines are that of a level playing field between foreign and national investors; the freedom of private sector entities to collect revenues; and a more streamlined process for obtaining permits and approvals. The law also exempts privatisation projects from meeting Saudisation quotas.

This willingness to engage with the concerns of foreign investors can be read as a reflection of the post-Covid-19 panorama, in which Gulf countries are in a more fiscally constrained position and hence likely to be more conciliatory than they may have been in the past.

At the same time as the approval of the law, Saudi Arabia’s National Centre for Privatisation – which was founded in 2017 – announced the launch of a Registry of Privatisation Projects, a central database of information related to projects targeted for privatisation.

Hopes are high that the new law will provide a significant boost to privatisation.

At the end of May Mohammed Al Jadaan, the minister of finance, told the Financial Times that Saudi Arabia was expecting to raise $38bn through asset sales and a further $16.5bn through public-private partnerships by 2025.

A Gulf-wide acceleration

The Saudi Arabian government is among a number in the region that are expanding their respective privatisation strategies.

As OBG has explored in depth, the Covid-19 crisis prompted many Gulf states to accelerate their ongoing attempts at diversification, with increased private sector involvement a key element of many such projects.

In Oman, for example, local media recently reported that the government was looking into selling its 54% stake in the Oman Cement Company.

The country has a pre-coronavirus track record of championing privatisation. Its first major sale was of a 49% stake in Oman Electricity Transmission to the State Grid Corporation of China, at the end of 2019.

On a related note, it has recently been reported that Abu Dhabi is considering the sale of a 10%, $4bn stake in the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, known as Taqa, which is the emirate’s largest utility.

It is thought that Taqa’s ongoing shift towards renewable energy – it plans to increase the contribution of solar and wind to 30% of production over the next decade – could enhance its attractiveness to international investors.

Last year the company announced that foreign investors, who had previously been banned, would be allowed to buy stock in future sales.

Any potential sale of the company’s assets would represent the latest step in an ongoing privatisation campaign by the emirate, which in recent years has attracted more than $20bn in foreign investment into the operations of state-owned oil company Adnoc.

Meanwhile, in March Bahrain held the Bahrain Metro Market Consultation, an initiative designed to find private companies with which to form a public-private partnership to develop its metro system. The launch of international tendering for the project is expected later this year.

It is estimated that the project will cost more than $1bn, and potentially as much as $2bn.

Bahrain has long been a regional leader in courting private sector investment. For instance, within the MENA region Bahrain was ranked second only to the UAE on the World Bank’s most recent ease of doing business index, and 43rd overall. 

As Gulf governments seek to bolster the resilience of their economies and public finances in the wake of the pandemic, there are concrete reasons to anticipate that privatisation will play a significant role both in their immediate Covid-19 recovery strategies and in their longer-term diversification efforts.

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More efforts needed to boost trust in AI in the financial sector

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Governments, financial regulators and firms should step up their efforts to work together to address the challenges of developing and deploying trustworthy artificial intelligence (AI) in the financial sector, according to a new OECD report.

The OECD Business and Finance Outlook 2021 says that investment in AI finance is on the rise. The financial and insurance sector has consistently been within the top 10 industries in terms of the amount of VC investments in AI start-ups, investing over USD 4 billion worldwide in 2020. Almost 65% of VC investments in the sector went to American AI start-ups.

As AI applications become increasingly integrated into business and finance, the use of trustworthy AI will become increasingly important for ensuring trustworthy financial markets, says the report.

AI has the potential to facilitate transactions, enhance market efficiency, reinforce financial stability, promote greater financial inclusion and improve customer experience. But AI also raises unique challenges to privacy, autonomy, transparency and accountability, which are particularly complex in the financial sector, according to the Outlook.

Critically, increasingly complex AI algorithms that are difficult, or even impossible, to explain could amplify existing risks in financial markets or give rise to new risks.

Transparency, fairness, data governance and accountability are key to managing risk as determinants of trustworthy AI. Failing to foster these qualities in AI systems could lead to the introduction of biases generating discriminatory and unfair results, market convergence and herding behaviour or the concentration of markets by dominant players, which can all undermine market integrity and stability.  

Existing financial regulations may fall short of addressing systemic risks presented by wide-scale adoption of AI-based FinTech by financial firms, says the report.

These conditions have led to a critical juncture for the deployment of AI applications in business and finance, according to the Oulook. Financial regulators are grappling with whether and how to adapt existing rules, or create new ones, to keep pace with technological advances in AI applications, while striking the right balance between managing risks and supporting innovation.

At the international level, the OECD AI Principles, adopted in May 2019, became the first international standard agreed by governments for the responsible stewardship of trustworthy AI. The OECD, together with international partners working to support financial markets and financial sustainability, must reinforce efforts to facilitate multilateral engagement on implementing the Principles in the context of financial markets and other business sectors.

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50 Firms Collaborate to Champion Next Gen Careers in Industry

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The World Economic Forum today launches the New Generation Industry Leaders (NGIL) programme, a global community of fast-rising young industrialists to accelerate environmental and social progress in manufacturing and production sectors, transforming perceptions and inspiring a new generation to take up a career in industry.

Over 50 world-leading companies in the production ecosystem, including Apple, DHL, Johnson & Johnson, Rockwell Automation, Siemens and Stanley Black & Decker, are supporting the NGIL programme. Beyond proposing their young leaders to join the community, these companies are making their training materials available to the community and executives are acting as mentors for the community members.

Emerging technologies are transforming industries as diverse as automotive, chemicals, electronics, healthcare and textiles. But industrial production is facing a skills shortage in all areas from R&D and design to consumer behaviour and end-of-use cycles. Research from global consulting firm Korn Ferry found that by 2030, there will be a global human talent shortage of more than 85 million people, which could result in $8.5 trillion in unrealized annual revenues. The New Generation Industry Leaders community will play an active role to address these challenges.

Mark Maybury, Chief Technology Officer of Stanley Black & Decker said: “Stanley Black & Decker is honored to contribute to the establishment of the NGIL community which fills a critical gap in the leadership development of future industrial leaders. This programme inspires the next generation through exposure to visionary industrial leaders, cross connecting this worldwide cohort to foster peer-to-peer learning and transforming their future by accelerating their growth and focusing their purpose on global challenges.”

Tanja Küppers, Chief Operating Officer of DHL Supply Chain Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: “New Generation Industry Leaders have the ability to push innovative minds and fire up the hearts of people to reach great heights of sustainable performance; by embracing connectedness with the business, society and environment they act as responsible leaders towards their workforce, customers and partners.”

Members of the New Generation Industry Leaders programme are nominated by senior executives from their respective companies and organizations. The first cohort of leaders numbers over 100, of whom half are women. They represent more than 20 countries and 12 industrial sectors, including energy, automotive, mining and metals. Each cohort of new leaders will embark on an 18-month journey embracing the following principles and activities:

· Get inspired: learning modules in strategy, leadership and operations, delivered by thought leaders, CEOs and senior executives from the production ecosystem.

· Connect: peer networking sessions to learn from each other’s unique workplaces and career experiences and to share ideas, challenges and solutions.

· Transform: smaller cross-industry teams to help accelerate responsible industry transformation and co-create new ideas to get the world excited about new opportunities and innovations in manufacturing and production.

Members agree to collaborate to drive positive change within each impact area in their own organizations, with the goal of leveraging their shared efforts to engage with and attract younger generations.

Jeremy Jurgens, Managing Director at the World Economic Forum, said: “The transformation in manufacturing and production being driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution can only succeed with the leadership and collaboration of young professionals. We are thrilled to announce the launch of this inaugural group of exceptional leaders who will challenge their peers to embrace the incredible opportunities promised by a career in industry.”

Lawrence Whittle, Chief Executive Office of global technology firm Parsable, said: “Today’s factories are the most technologically advanced work environments in the world. So much innovation is happening in industrial sectors. But industry has an image problem – it’s not seen by young people as tech-savvy or future-focused. We urgently need to change perceptions around a career in manufacturing to attract and retain the finest talent from mobile-first generations.”

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Clean Skies for Tomorrow Leaders: 10% Sustainable Aviation Fuel by 2030

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Today, 60 companies in the World Economic Forum’s Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition – whose mission is to accelerate the deployment of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) – achieved a milestone on the path to net-zero emissions by 2050 by working together to power global aviation with 10% SAF by 2030.

As aviation remains a “hard to abate” sector in reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, strong climate action from the industry is particularly important as travel begins to return to pre-pandemic levels. Accelerating the supply and use of SAF technologies to reach 10% of global jet aviation fuel supply by 2030 is a significant move to put the aviation industry on the path to net-zero emissions.

This will only be possible through the concerted effort of industry leaders. The following organizations have signed the 2030 Ambition Statement:

  • Accenture
  • ACME
  • Airbus
  • Airports Council International
  • American Airlines
  • ANA Holdings Inc
  • Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL)
  • Bank of America
  • Biodiesel Association of India (BDAI)
  • Boeing
  • Boston Consulting Group
  • bp
  • British Airways
  • Caphenia
  • Carbon Engineering Ltd.
  • Cathay Pacific Airways
  • Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW)
  • Deloitte
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Deutsche Post DHL Group
  • Dubai Airports
  • Enerkem
  • ENI
  • Fraport
  • Fulcrum BioEnergy
  • Heathrow Airport
  • Honeywell
  • Iberia
  • Indian Institute of Petroleum
  • International Airlines Group
  • Japan Airlines
  • KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
  • Kuehne+Nagel
  • LanzaJet
  • LanzaTech
  • McKinsey & Company
  • Neste
  • Norsk e-Fuel AS
  • Novo Nordisk AS
  • oneworld alliance
  • Ørsted
  • Praj Industries Limited
  • Punjab Renewable Energy Systems Pvt Ltd
  • PwC
  • Qatar Airways Group
  • Rolls-Royce
  • Royal Schiphol Group
  • San Francisco International Airport
  • Shell
  • SkyNRG
  • SpiceJet
  • Suncor
  • Sunfire
  • Sydney Airport
  • The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)
  • TotalEnergies
  • United Airlines
  • Velocys
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Visa Inc.

Signatory companies include airlines, airports, fuel suppliers and other aviation innovators from around the world. They also include non-aviation companies that rely on corporate air travel for their business operations, demonstrating that the responsibility of decarbonizing the industry lies with all those who depend on the aviation sector.

“Achieving our ambition will require commitment, innovation and cross-industry collaboration from a wide range of stakeholders,” said Lauren Uppink Calderwood, Head of Aviation, Travel and Tourism at the World Economic Forum. “We are calling on governments, international organizations and others to work with us to take important steps forward through new policies, targeted investments and regulations that create a level playing field while incentivizing transformation.”

This statement is also in full support of the UN High Level Climate Champions’ 2030 Breakthrough Outcome for aviation, one of over 30 sectoral near-term targets that are critical to halving emissions by 2030 and delivering the promise of the Paris Agreement.

Achieving net-zero aviation

SAF is fully compatible with existing aircraft and is a viable industry solution in the transition to 2030 and beyond. Members of the Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition are championing the commercial scale of viable production of sustainable low-carbon aviation fuels (bio and synthetic) for broad adoption in the industry.

Actors across the aviation eco-system agree on the need to first reduce, as far as possible, the emissions caused by the sector. This reduction can be achieved through efforts including the optimization of routes, increased energy efficiency from aircraft design and improved ground operations. Stakeholders such as airports can play an increasingly important role in the adoption and uptake of SAF by developing SAF operational plans or kickstarting co-funding mechanisms.

Synthesized from sustainable, renewable feedstocks – such as municipal waste, agricultural residues and waste lipids, or developed through a power-to-liquid route – SAF has already fuelled more than 250,000 commercial flights.

Difficulties remain in getting SAF to scale up production due to its prohibitively high price gap with fossil-based jet fuel, resulting in a “chicken and egg” problem with supply and demand. Costs will fall if production scales up, but fuel providers are facing headwinds due to high price pressure on low SAF demand, and high risks associated with policy and investment uncertainty. Demonstrating sufficient demand and policy certainty will be crucial to building investor confidence, hence the power of this major commitment from the leading companies in the aviation energy value chain.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel Certificate (SAFc) system

To make this concerted effort possible, the Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition has developed a Sustainable Aviation Fuel Certificate (SAFc) system, a new accounting tool that will allow SAF emissions reductions to be claimed by travellers and cargo customers if they are willing to cover the higher costs.

The proposed system also handles fuel supply chain logistics by delivering SAF stock to airports nearest the production plants. With existing technologies and digital demand platforms such as the SAFc, best-practice sustainable aviation can reduce GHG emissions on a lifecycle basis by up to 80%.

The key to long-term net-zero aviation will be to incentivize demand for SAF-fuelled air travel. With this ambitious 10%-by-2030 coalition commitment, members are motivated to aggregate demand for carbon-neutral flying. Some are championing mechanisms including co-investment vehicles, industry-backed policy proposals, and creative value-chain stimulus programmes for corporate passenger and transport business customers.

Expert Thoughts

“Progressing the development and commercial deployment of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is crucial to decarbonising the aviation industry. We are investing heavily in the development of SAF and have partnerships with Velocys in the UK and LanzaJet in the US which could see us powering our flights with sustainable fuel as soon as next year,” says Sean Doyle, British Airways’ Chairman and CEO. “Earlier this month we were delighted to collaborate with bp to source enough sustainable aviation fuel with respect to all our flights between London, Glasgow and Edinburgh during COP26, substantially reducing the emissions associated with taking our customers to and from COP26 by up to 80% compared to traditional jet fuel. We need continued support from Government to scale up the development and use of SAF, which will be a game changer for our industry.”

“Delta is looking to the future of sustainable aviation while addressing the current impact of our carbon emissions. It is why we committed to carbon neutrality in March of 2020 and why we have also committed to setting a science-based targets to align with the Paris Agreement,” said Ed Bastian, CEO, Delta Air Lines. “This partnership with Clean Skies for Tomorrow builds a future for sustainable aviation by bringing together a coalition that will accelerate the supply and use of SAF technologies.”

“Our announcement today to reach 10% SAF by 2030 emphasizes our commitment to the planet and prosperity. Upscaling SAF with a global approach will boost India’s economy,” Ajay Singh, Chairman & CEO, SpiceJet. “Accelerating the SAF industry with a global approach will bring opportunities for economic growth and transformation in India.”

“We’re proud to be joining forces with more than 50 companies collectively committing to powering global aviation with 10% sustainable aviation fuels by 2030. It’s a crucial milestone towards achieving net zero flying by 2050,” says Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic. “From partnering on sustainable aviation fuels with LanzaTech in 2011, to becoming a founding member of the Jet Zero Council, Virgin Atlantic has been leading on sustainability for more than 15 years. Our partnership with Clean Skies for Tomorrow is another step forward in accelerating the global transition to sustainable aviation.”

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