Shaping A Greener Future: Collaborative Strategies For The Financial Sector The UAE not only contributes to the global ESG agenda, but also cements its role as a hub for sustainable finance, setting a benchmark for others to follow.

By Sameera Fernandes

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For those of us watching the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over the last couple of years, it's no secret that the nation has been steadfastly redefining its economic narrative, transitioning from an oil-centric powerhouse, to a beacon of sustainable finance. This strategic shift aligns with a global imperative to address climate change and promote sustainable practices, a theme that resonates with the findings of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development's World Investment Report as well as that of the Gulf Investment Report 2023 that was developed by the enterprise I work with, Century Financial. These reports underscore a critical investment deficit in developing countries, which has widened from US$2.5 trillion in 2015 to a staggering $4 trillion annually, underscoring the urgency to meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals -as listed by the United Nations- by 2030.

For its part, one of the ways in which Century Financial underscored its commitment to this global challenge was by hosting a roundtable discussion on the theme, Shaping a Greener Future: Collaborative Strategies for the Financial Sector. Having convened CEOs, policymakers, sustainability experts, and thought leaders, this event fostered a dialogue pivotal for the advancement of a sustainable financial sector. Indeed, the diversity of participants as well as the depth of conversation at Century Financial's headquarters in Dubai highlighted the ongoing collective drive to integrate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles into the financial industry.

At this event, sustainability leaders emphasized the necessity of cross-sector collaboration to expedite the transition to a greener economy. The roundtable also served as a crucible for innovation, identifying barriers and collaborative initiatives, and sharing best practices that could shape the financial sector's future. Its participants further deliberated the importance of identifying material topics during the sustainability and ESG reporting process, advocating for a move beyond regulatory compliance towards sustainability integration in business operations. Speaking at the roundtable, Bal Krishen, Chairman and CEO of Century Financial, stressed the importance of collaboration to enact meaningful change and tackle environmental challenges. The event also featured insights from esteemed panelists like Regina Von Flemming from the strategy and communica- tions consultancy, Tymoria, Ibrahim Al Blooshi from the philanthropic foundation, Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, and Faisal Mohammed Al Shimmari from Mashreq Bank, one of the UAE's leading financial institutions, among others. These leaders shared their organizations' commitments to sustainability, focusing on renewable energy, clean technology research and development, sustainable water management, and education on resource management.

Al Blooshi, for instance, highlighted the integration of ESG consider-ations into investment practice and the promotion of green financing mechanisms as pathways to a resilient financial landscape. Meanwhile, Mashreq Bank's Al Shimmari reaffirmed his enterprise's dedication to embedding sustainability into their core business practices, thereby ensuring that investments forge a sustainable path for future generations. The roundtable thus concluded with a unified call to action, stressing the need for robust policies and frameworks to support sustainable finance. The commitment to implement the discussed ideas was palpable, with several organizations announcing new initiatives to bolster their environmental sustainability efforts. The success of this roundtable can therefore be seen as a testament to the growing recognition within the financial sector of the economic opportunities presented by sustainability. It marks a collective commit- ment to drive positive change, positioning financial institutions as pivotal architects of a greener future. Indeed, in the UAE, the financial sector is navigating towards a future where economic growth and sustainability are not just aligned, but integrated. By embracing ESG principles and fostering collaboration, the sector is not simply responding to a global trend, but actively driving it.

Related: Green Innovations: Meet The Finalists In The Water Category Of This Year's Zayed Sustainability Prize

A scene from the Century Financial roundtable discussion. Image courtesy Century Financial.

The UAE's commitment to a sustainable future is therefore a beacon for the global finance industry, heralding the advent of a new epoch of conscious investment. As the UAE continues to innovate and lead in ESG practices, it sends a compelling message: the finance industry has the capability and the responsibility to lead sustainable progress. The nation's strategic adoption of ESG offers a blueprint for global finance sectors, promising a legacy of prosperity that is sustainable in every sense. The UAE's financial sector is also redefining the essence of wealth and prosperity. By giving precedence to sustainability, it is planting the seeds for a future where economic expansion and environmental stewardship are in harmony. This is the new paradigm of wealth, deeply rooted in the tenets of ESG. The call to action is clear, and the finance industry must now embrace its pivotal role in the ESG journey. The UAE, with its bold initiatives and forward-thinking leadership, is well-positioned to lead this charge, transforming challenges into opportunities for growth, and setting a global example for sustainable development in the financial sector.

The UAE's financial sector is thus not only embracing ESG principles, but it's also actively shaping the landscape of sustainable finance through concrete actions and collaborative strategies. With the issuance of the region's first green bond by the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, as well as the integration of ESG criteria by the Dubai Islamic Bank, the UAE is setting a strong precedent. The nation's Vision 2021, which emphasizes the development of a competitive knowledge economy with sustainability at its core, further reinforces this commitment.

As the sustainable finance market grows (which reached $5.8 trillion in 2022), the UAE is poised to leverage its strategic position to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) in clean energy. This could help bridge the investment gap in developing countries, which stands at a shortfall of $1.7 trillion in clean energy FDI against the need. The next steps therefore involve continuing to build on this momentum, with financial institutions implementing actionable strategies, and the nation's policymakers enhancing frameworks to attract further investments. By doing so, the UAE not only contributes to the global ESG agenda, but also cements its role as a hub for sustainable finance, setting a benchmark for others to follow.

Related: Charting The Future: The UAE Emerges As A Leader In Sustainable Infrastructure Development

Sameera Fernandes is a certified environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and sustainability professional who has completed Oxford University’s Leading Sustainable Corporations program. As the Director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at Century Financial, she is responsible for driving the company’s sustainability agenda. A well-recognized sustainability leader, she specializes in green finance, sustainable investments, international partnerships, and change management. She is also certified by the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investments. Sameera played an instrumental role in the recent release of Century Financial’s Gulf Investment Report 2023 at the World Investment Forum in Abu Dhabi, further substantiating her influence in shaping global investment discussions.

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