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World Economic Forum speakers urge governments to lead sustainability efforts

Published: Updated:

Thani Ahmed al-Zeyoudi, the Minister of Climate Change and Environment for the United Arab Emirates, said the humanitarian effects of climate change are huge, in a session held Sunday at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on the Middle East and North Africa.

“When it comes to the impact of climate change… We’ve seen a lot of natural disasters, like the cyclone in Mozambique, diseases reappeared,” al-Zeyoudi said.

“If we don’t do the proper planning and infrastructure to be resilient to natural disaster, the numbers will be much higher,” he added.

“In the field of climate change and environments, we need leaders,” he said, adding that when members of the private sector see leaders implementing climate change policies, they will follow suit.

The session’s speakers highlighted the importance of having higher health standards in Arab countries and of the government’s role in dealing with climate change.

Impact on health

Al-Zeyoudi noted the government’s responsibilities when it comes to sustainability. “We want to ensure that the air that we breathe and our people breathe is healthy. The water that we supply to the community and public is going to be safe. The food from the soil that we provide has the highest standard of health as possible.”

“We have to roll our sleeves and start the work that we are supposed to do,” he added.

Janet Heckman, managing director of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Region at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said that when it came to the environment, “the impact on daily life is immense throughout every major urban city.”

“We see the impact in terms of health. I live in Cairo. Some days you feel you’ve smoked a dozen cigarettes,” she explained.

Discussing the investment opportunities of solar energy, Heckman named the Benban Solar Park, a project in the Aswan region of Egypt. “It brought together over 30 private sector investors, many of whom had never invested in Egypt before.”

“The basis that allowed this was policy dialogue between the government of Egypt and international financial institutions and the major developers,” she added.

Agreeing with the other session speakers, Atle Idland, general manager and managing director of the UAE’s Desert Control Middle East, said regarding the environment, it “all comes down to private sector engagement and governments.”

He added that the initiatives of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s program to diversify the kingdom’s economy, “are serious missions and they are happening, so from us being a startup, we want to be part of these initiatives, and hopefully they will drive us and we will drive them.”

The forum’s sessions, which are taking place in the Dead Sea region of Jordan, focus on the Arab world’s sustainability and security, and aim to promote dialogue.