An Earth Day Challenge: Addressing Future Challenges Around Climate Action Today

22 April 2020
Mr. Mohammad Abunayyan, Chairman of ACWA Power

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Mr. Mohammad Abunayyan, Chairman of ACWA Power

2020 has yielded unprecedented challenges for the global business ecosystem – for employees, employers, producers and consumers alike. The onset of COVID-19 has forced us to deeply consider altering our practices, approaches and attitudes in the short term to ensure a safer and more resilient post-pandemic world. This pandemic is, of course, a period of significant challenges, both at the organizational and individual level. But, these trying moments present an opportunity to look at our previous practices to see where we can make changes, including how to transition towards a cleaner, resilient and more digitally enabled future. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, it is our duty to look ahead at how we can make meaningful changes to tackle climate change over the next 50 years and beyond.

As the chair of B20 Saudi Arabia’s Energy, Sustainability & Climate Taskforce, I, along with 10 world-renowned international business leaders as co-chairs, have the opportunity to help guide discussions around what such change may look like. Discussions held to date have brought the membership of our taskforce – executives and leadership from industry-leading companies, international NGOs and multilateral trade organizations – into alignment on the importance of promoting a circular economy and accelerating clean energy transitions.

These conversations have become all the more urgent in light of COVID-19. Current production processes are unsustainable, as the global economy today uses the equivalent of 1.7 planets to produce global output and absorb waste. Companies extract more than 60 billion tons of raw materials per year – or 22 kilograms per person per day – to support economic activities. It is clear these practices must evolve if we are to protect our planet and its industries and workers for the long term.

Further, climate inaction will have significant consequences on our physical health. According to Climate Transparency, G20 countries are already impacted by severe weather events leading to around 16,000 deaths and USD 142 billion in economic losses every year. Global deaths related to air pollution totaled 3 million in 2016 and health care costs to treat related diseases could increase to USD 200 billion by 2060.

In addition, the risks associated with climate change are increasing and the negative socio-economic impacts are expected to grow in a non-linear way; both manifesting climate change as an urgent and potentially irreversible challenge to society.

Countries are already thinking about energy and resource security by moving away from a concentrated supply chain model, which has proven to be a point of economic weakness in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. As we reexamine global supply chain networks and structure, there is an opportunity to make changes both to safeguard against future crises and to make significant progress towards clean energy, carbon neutrality and a circular economy. Climate resiliency should be looked at as a pre-condition to mitigate future external shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic, not as an afterthought.

While the COVID-19 lockdown has led to a cleaner environment, as exemplified in China where carbon emissions have fallen by 25%, we should not become complacent. Data has already indicated the start of a rebound in areas where lockdowns haven been lifted. Instead, we should harness this momentum by re-designing and re-thinking our future to mitigate climate change. The pandemic will eventually end, and those of us leading companies, coalitions and governments alike will have to look closely at our existing values and intersect them with the learnings gleaned from this crisis. Now more than ever, it is important we continue to be forward-thinking in our approach to combat climate change. Doing so will not only benefit our environment, but it will ensure our economies can withstand such challenging times in the future.

Mohammad Abunayyan is the Chair of the Energy, Sustainability & Climate Taskforce in B20 Saudi Arabia. He is also Chairman of the International Company for Water and Power Projects, which focuses on the development, operations, and maintenance of projects involved in the production of water and electricity.

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