Expo 2020 Dubai | 25 Oct 2021 | 10am – 10.15am
by Tan Sri Dr. Syed Hamid Albar, Chairman, WIEF Foundation
“Climate Change Conversations on Sustainable Infrastructure “
Speech duration: 15 minutes
Esteemed Role Players, valued Corporate Partners and Stakeholders,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.
And a very good morning.
It is my distinct pleasure to welcome you to this programme by the Ministry of Environment and Water, Malaysia, entitled Climate Change Conversation on Sustainable Infrastructure, at Expo 2020 in Dubai.
On behalf of the World Islamic Economic Forum Foundation (WIEF), I would like to thank the Ministry for inviting me to introduce this session that will highlight the global crisis foremost on everyone’s mind apart from the COVID-19 pandemic. I am referring, of course to none other than the global climate emergency.
ABOUT THE WIEF
But before that, allow me to say a few words about the WIEF Foundation. The Foundation has, in its 15 years of existence, consistently highlighted various aspects of sustainability in its annual forums and various initiatives.
Every year, the WIEF invites experts on key topics from all corners of the globe with the objective of highlighting how sustainable practices are inseparable from economic health and sustainability.
This important and timely event is very much in line with WIEF’s values and objectives. It is part of WIEF’s continuing commitment to a sustainable, low-carbon global economy.
Our esteemed thought leaders will share their cutting-edge views on what can and must be done if we, as a global community, are to minimise current and future impacts on our key systems and infrastructure. More importantly, they will highlight the ways in which current governance and regulatory frameworks need to change to align with global temperature goals of the Paris Agreement under the Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Ladies and gentlemen, like it or not, the climate disaster is now part of our daily lives.
Extreme weather events such as heatwaves and storms are more frequent and severe, particularly when superimposed on slow-onset events such as sea-level rise and ocean warming and acidification.
Heatwaves that historically occurred once a decade have almost tripled in frequency and will become more than four times more frequent in a 1.5-degree world. Scientists have calculated that the ‘heat dome’ that smashed all previous temperature records in the Pacific northwest of the United States, in June, killing hundreds of people as well as roasting alive a billion sea creatures in their shells off the coast, would have been “virtually impossible” if human activity hadn’t heated the planet.
Severe floods that historically occurred once a decade are now 1.3 times more frequent and will occur one and a half times more frequently in a 1.5-degree world. The floods that wreaked devastation to infrastructure in Germany were made nine times more likely by the climate crisis!
Crop failures at the scale that historically occurred once a decade now occur 1.7 times a decade and will occur once every five years in a 1.5 degree world exposing more of the world’s most vulnerable populations to famine and starvation.
Parts of the world susceptible to dry-season fires, including in Southeast Asia are increasingly threatened with vicious cycles of heat, drought and fire.
In Malaysia, I grew up with mid-day temperatures between 25 and 27 degrees Celsius. It was a pleasure then, to watch gentlemen in linen suits, riding bicycles on city roads to work. Six decades later, the air temperature in the city is 37 degrees Celsius on most afternoons and even tops the 40-degree Celsius mark on some.
That represents an average temperature increases of around 1.5 per cent, each decade. My fear is that, by the time my grandchildren grow up in 20 years, the outdoor temperature in Malaysia will make being outdoors completely unbearable, with profound impacts on key systems and infrastructure.
I sincerely hope that we can summon the political will to act swiftly and decisively and spare our loved ones from this fate.
EFFECT OF INFRASTRUCTURE
Our human civilization has come to rely on vast energy, communications and mobility systems, water management and food systems, and environment and waste management systems. But they need to be continually assessed to ensure that they are aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and to ensure that they are not, in themselves, contributing to the Climate Emergency.
Countries that have invested heavily in fossil fuel-powered personal transportation infrastructure continued to emit high levels of greenhouse gases and their associated pollutants. Coastal cities that have built a water supply infrastructure on groundwater resources are now in double jeopardy from not just saline intrusion but also land subsidence, which is effectively accelerating local sea-level rise.
Having said that, it is important to note that infrastructure is invariably threatened by climate impacts. Infrastructure impacted by extreme weather events will deteriorate more quickly, have a shorter useful life, suffer from accelerated wear and tear, and fail prematurely, sometimes with catastrophic consequences.
This infrastructure will need to be inspected more frequently, monitored more closely and where necessary, repaired, reinforced, or otherwise adapted to survive the new-normal.
All these measures entail significant additional cost, and for many countries, represent a drain on already stretched national budgets. However, innovative approaches to climate-resilient infrastructure have shown to be more affordable in the long run than traditional approaches. Furthermore, researchers have found that the investment benefits in enhanced resilience far outweigh the costs.
Apart from protecting existing infrastructure, the climate emergency requires investments in new, infrastructure development, not only the needs of a growing global population, but also to grow a healthy and thriving green economy.
HOW ISLAMIC NATIONS HAVE RESPONDED
Most national agendas are built around sustainable development and the quest to find the perfect balance between social needs and economic growth, while bearing in mind the limits of the environment. The Islamic nations of the world, among those most severely impacted by climate change, have likewise risen to meet these challenges and have developed and launched initiatives aimed at strengthening resilience and enhancing sustainability.
An example is the UAE’s Vision 2021 National Agenda which includes sustainable environment and infrastructure as a key focus. It envisions green growth plans and the incorporation of clean energy as its national energy mix.
Another example is UAE’s Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, led by its renewable energy company Masdar. Masdar’s expression of sustainable infrastructure combines ancient Arabic architectural techniques and modern building technologies.
Constructed in 2006, and designed to be fully powered by renewable energy, Masdar City institutes well-intentioned, ambitious policies such as zero waste, sustainable transport and building energy efficiency standards.
The Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 put in place initiatives covering renewable energy, environmental security and combatting desertification. Just this year, it has been enriched with the Saudi Green Initiative. This initiative seeks to unify all sustainability efforts in the Kingdom, to increase reliance on clean energy, to offset the impact of fossil fuels and combat to climate change.
Importantly, it is part of the larger Middle East Green Initiative which includes the Middle East Green Initiative Summit. This Summit, which is being convene in Riyadh as we are meeting today, brought together international and regional leaders to build consensus to deliver shared environmental commitments. Building on the national climate commitments enshrined in the Saudi Green Initiative, the Kingdom plans to work with its neighbours to combat climate change beyond its borders through collective action.
IMPORTANCE OF COLLABORATION
Moving forward, collaboration is of paramount importance.
Collaborative efforts between governmental bodies, as well as the public and private sectors are key in implementing a regulatory framework establishing clear environmental standards, which are the basis of sustainability. Such a framework is fundamental to developing and actualising sustainable infrastructure.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Time is not on our side. Studies show that developing nations will bear the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change. Thus, the criticality of sustainable infrastructure, particularly in developing nations cannot be underestimated.
To build an infrastructure of the future, we need to understand and respect planetary boundaries, maintain existing ecosystems and thoughtfully integrate manmade structures with natural landscapes.
Investment in sustainable infrastructure not only provides efficient systems and climate resilience, but also contributes to economic growth.
The ability to withstand increasingly extreme weather conditions will ensure that our cities continue to be inhabitable, our people safe and our economies protected.
These sessions by the Ministry of Environment and Water resonate loudly with SDG 9 that calls for resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive as well as sustainable industrialisation and encourage innovation.
Sustainable infrastructure is critical in our fight against climate change. It challenges us to rethink the entire value chain of the creation of buildings, networks and other systems made for essential services and our convenience.
The design, sourcing, building and operation of sustainable infrastructures must be performed in ways that not only protect the functionality of the natural environment, but which additionally respect the social and economic processes required to ensure human equity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very confident that today’s sessions will not only shed light on effective governance relevant to climate action, but also open doors to partnership opportunities for enhancing infrastructure sustainability.
Most of all, I hope all of you will reap the benefits of the views shared by the sharp minds gathered here. It has been an honour for me to be here today representing WIEF Foundation, and to be part of a meaningful as well as highly relevant and impactful discussion.
And with a final note of thanks to the Ministry of Environment and Water of Malaysia for the invitation, I wish you well and look forward to today’s informative and exciting sessions.