Simon Thompson is Chief Executive of the Chartered Banker Institute and author of “Green and Sustainable Finance: Principles & Practice”.
I’m very much looking forward to joining my peers at the Future Sustainability Forum, hosted by the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) on 4th-5th October. There is, in my view, no better location for global business, finance, sustainability and technology leaders to come together to innovate ways in which we can accelerate the climate transition - and no better time, just two months before COP 28 convenes in the UAE.
There are two key megatrends shaping business and society today, including my world of banking and finance. Firstly, the digital revolution – technology – encompassing automation, AI, FinTech, and the metaverse, shapes the delivery of services to customers and communities. The “how” we do what we do. Secondly, the increasing realisation, and commitment, to creating shared prosperity for current and future generations that protects people and planet – sustainability – shapes the purpose and vision of our organisations. The “why” we do what we do.
As world leaders gather in New York for the 78th United Nations General Assembly to review progress against the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN’s recent Progress Report warns that the world is on track to meet just 12% of the SDG targets by 2030. Progress on more than 50% of the SDGs is weak and 30% have stalled or gone into reverse. These include critical global targets on climate, poverty and hunger.
Successfully aligning the purpose of business and finance – the “why” – with the possibilities unlocked by digital transformation – the “how” – can accelerate our progress towards net zero and wider environmental and sustainability objectives. These are complex, multifaceted, multilayered challenges needing the leaders and entrepreneurs convening at the Future Sustainability Forum to share ideas and innovation supported by investment and expertise from the banking and finance sector to tackle global issues at the scale required.
Developments in AI and machine learning in particular enable us to tackle complex challenges in ways that were unimaginable until recently and can unlock some of the climate and other sustainability solutions required to ensure a successful transition. For example:
Climate change modelling
AI and machine learning can process massive volumes of structured and unstructured environmental data, facilitating the development of more precise climate models and more accurately forecasting potential impacts of different climate change scenarios. Helping scientists, policymakers, businesspeople and financiers make better-informed decisions and improving the efficiency of investments in climate mitigation and adaptation.
AI can help optimize energy consumption in many high-emitting sectors, including transportation, manufacturing, and smart buildings. Machine learning algorithms can analyze large datasets to identify patterns and make predictions, enabling energy-efficient operations and reducing waste.
Renewable energy management
AI can enhance the integration and management of renewable energy sources including solar, wind and tidal power. It can analyze weather patterns, energy demand, and supply to optimize energy generation and distribution via smart grids, maximizing the use of clean energy and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
Facilitating sustainable agriculture
AI can support more sustainable and efficient farming practices that minimize the environmental impacts of agriculture. By analyzing and combining data from sensors, satellites, and drones, AI-powered systems can offer real-time information on soil conditions, water usage, and crop health. This enables farmers to implement precision agriculture techniques, reducing the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and water while maximizing crop yields.
Making the progress we need in these and the many other areas required needs a vibrant community of technology and sustainability entrepreneurs, supported by an enabling business, finance and professional services sector and regulatory environment. A community like that is growing rapidly in the UAE, where initiatives including the Dubai AI Roadmap position the city as a global AI hub for sustainable development, and the DIFC plays a proactive role in promoting AI adoption through the Dubai AI & Web 3.0 Campus; this is set to attract over 500 AI and Web 3.0 companies and create over 3000 jobs by 2028.
As AI and digital technology continues to evolve, however, it is vital that we consider ethical issues, data privacy concerns, energy consumption and safeguard its responsible and equitable deployment for the benefit of society as a whole, to ensure that AI itself is sustainable. So, as well as bringing together global business, finance, sustainability and technology leaders to innovate and accelerate the transition, the Forum can also play a key role in shaping the ethical future of technology and sustainability, illuminating the path to a successful, sustainable, socially just transition that creates genuine shared prosperity for current and future generations.