No Time to Waste: Towards a Common Environmental Agenda
Moderator: Matthew Robinson
Suzanna Elmassah - Professor of Economics and Finance at Zayed University, Fellow at Economic Research Forum and Higher Education Academy (UAE)
Dick Roche - Former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, former Minister of State for European Affairs (Ireland)
Lord Duncan of Springbank - Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords, former Under Secretary of State for Climate Change (United Kingdom)
Prof. Elmassah gave a presentation on sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the environment. After stating that most countries are not on track to meet their SDGs, she explained ways of conceptualising the goals, and argued for a more holistic, nested approach. As proof of this, she cited the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed all these social, environmental and economic goals as heavily interdependent. Coupling environmental protection with sustainable development, for example by paying communities for preserving their environments, is a good way to move forward. This is also the case for the GCC, where the way to make the post-COVID recovery resilient is to make sure the focus of the recovery is green.
Mr. Roche focused on the gap between rhetoric and concrete action and planning in the climate change debate. He suggested that what is needed is something akin to the Marshall Plan of recovery after WW2, focused on climate change. Drawing a parallel to the Marshall Plan, he mentioned that it was done with relatively few people engaged in its execution, compared to what he described as a large and somewhat cumbersome COP framework. He also suggested that a body akin to the Security Council should be formed in the UN, with the task of tackling climate change. Mr. Roche also mentioned some possible solutions that were underappreciated, namely alternative fuels and biofuels, as well as tidal energy.
Lord Duncan opened on a sombre note, stating that most countries were not going to meet their targets for stopping climate change. The United Kingdom has an ambitious net-zero target for 2050 and is one of the world leaders in green technologies, but even the UK will struggle to meet its goal. He also said that previous COPs have failed, with the method of ‘accounting’ or measuring the relevant metrics being an issue. Countries can’t solve this problem on technicalities, and setting more ambitious targets with real backing behind them will be even more difficult after the COVID-19 pandemic, which has strained government budgets worldwide. In light of this, the world needs to discuss adaptation methods to the adverse effects of climate change, not only goals for mitigating the issue.
In the subsequent Q&A, various issues were discussed. Mr. Roche related some of his own personal experiences, even saying that a certain selective radicalism would be needed in our approach to climate change. Nuclear power was discussed, and Prof. Elmassah pointed out that nuclear power was already part of the energy mix in the United Arab Emirates, and the technology had its place on the Arabian Peninsula.