The month of December 2023 marked me with discussions about climate change. In New York, I was honored to host a climate roundtable, which included leaders from leading companies such as Morgan Stanley and Cushman & Wakefield, complemented by an opening address by Ambassador and Consul General Filip Vanden Bulcke. This event, combined with my role as a speaker at COP28 in Dubai for the Belgian delegation, allowed me to feel the different perspectives in favor of decarbonization in the United States, Europe and the United Arab Emirates, of which here are my key lessons.
Europe’s path to decarbonisation is paved with ambitions and regulations. I grew up in a time when eco-friendly gestures, like turning off the lights and recycling, are entrenched as norms. Yet, it is with a heavy heart that I observe environmental fatigue, driven by the lack of climate improvements. Also, the messages of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are amplified, often negatively, through the prism of the media, which contributes to creating a climate of anxiety and sometimes despair.
My transatlantic dialogues have revealed a profound disconnect with the climate discourse in the United States. The climate table was a microcosm of this. For example, one participant highlighted the Eurocentric vision and message on climate change. Metrics used like metric tons and Celsius instead of Fahrenheit are a good example of this. « I have no idea what +2°C means; I’ve never seen a single graph talking about global warming in Fahrenheit, » one participant asked. At the time, I couldn’t convert °C to °F and prove him wrong…
In the United States, environmental advocacy, in the absence of a clear economic incentive, often seems as futile as preaching in the desert. Environmental concerns tend to persist on the periphery of American consciousness. This is true until apprehension arises about the potential repercussions of the lack of environmental reporting on their own competitive potential, especially in the European market. The latter concern could be the most powerful driver of decarbonization currently in the United States.
In the Emirates, decarbonisation is greeted with a surge of enthusiasm that is akin to the discovery of new horizons. The Emiratis are slowly and sometimes paradoxically adopting new environmentally friendly practices with open arms.
A significant change for a region historically linked to fossil fuels. But the gap in terms of awareness is still large, as evidenced by some discussions with locals who both defend the climate and at the same time use ice blocks to cool down their private swimming pools during summer.
Nevertheless, I was struck by Emiratis positivism about decarbonization. The cultural propensity for optimism means that any negative news is quickly supplanted by positive narratives and business opportunities. This optimistic outlook is accompanied by an ingrained sense of pride and ambition, which are the cornerstones of Emirati identity. The UAE’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050 is not just a political goal, it is a quest for national honor and a proactive strategy to secure leadership in an inevitable global energy transition.
In short, in UAE, decarbonization is not a burden or a fantasy, it is a new business realm to create in which they want to lead the way.
Here’s a brief recap of what I could capture from discussions about this global perspective.
In light of my recent engagements in New York and Dubai and my strong experience in Europe, the global effort to decarbonize should be a relay race, rather than a solo sprint, with each region bringing its unique strengths. Europe is progressing little by little, its pace being punctuated by the regulatory impulse and hampered by some resistance. The Emiratis explode with zeal, propelled by a competitive spirit, but will this energy last and be translated into real actions?
Meanwhile, Americans seem contemplative on the edge of the action, deliberating on the value of participating in the race to carbon neutrality.
As we move beyond COP28, the quest for carbon neutrality requires a collaborative effort akin to a relay race, where the baton of responsibility is shared from nation to nation, each playing to its strengths to quickly achieve our collective goal. The need for carbon neutrality, as inevitable as the historic transitions from horse-drawn carriages to cars or from analogue to digital, is undeniable. For my part, the positive wind blown by the Emiratis gives a boost of freshness to my fight against global warming.