Jun 18, 2020 - 7:00pm

Advancing Environmentally Sustainable International Trade Amid COVID-19


Chair of the B20 Energy, Sustainability & Climate Taskforce

I recently had the pleasure of joining a discussion hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International Policy Coalition for Sustainable Growth (CSG) and leaders from the private sector, to speak on the topic of advancing an environmentally sustainable trade and economic growth agenda in the wake of COVID-19.

Through the course of my career, one of the key learnings has been the importance of partnership and collaboration to advance action-oriented, inclusive policies. Now in my current roles as Chair of the B20 Energy, Sustainability & Climate (ESC) Taskforce, as well as in my role as Chairman of ACWA Power – a developer, investor and operator of power generation and desalinated water plants across 12 countries – this has never been more pressing.  

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly added a new obstacle to achieving critical goals in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement. However, government and the private sector still have an opportunity to collaborate and advance critical policies and investments to ensure sustainable use of resources. At the B20, our Taskforce’s recommendations to achieve carbon neutrality, invest in climate-resilient infrastructure, and promote the sustainable use of freshwater systems and the ocean has never been more essential.

Particularly when it comes to trade, COVID-19 has made it more important and relevant than ever to have resilient infrastructure. Climate resiliency should be looked at as a pre-condition to mitigate future external shocks such as the one we’re currently experiencing, not as an afterthought. While the costs to make infrastructure more resilient are high, climate resilient infrastructure and proper enabling policies can lead to positive outcomes that materialize even if a disaster or crisis does not strike. For example, longer-lasting, quality infrastructure reduces costs of future upgrades and resources required. The private sector must urge government leaders to take action to strengthen the climate resilience of infrastructure by providing comprehensive policy frameworks, advancing climate resilient infrastructure and ensuring trade agreements are beneficial to the environment.

Another area of importance that is ripe for collaboration is the protection of freshwater systems and the ocean, which is critical to ensuring human well-being, economic growth and biodiversity both now and in the aftermath of the pandemic. In the context of COVID-19, access to running water has been critical to protect people from infection. But certain populations barely have access to it. Water scarcity, caused by growing water demands and changing water supplies exacerbated by climate change, is increasingly affecting large parts of the world. Unless action is taken soon, water scarcity could cost some regions up to 6% of their GDP by 2050. Similarly, marine litter and unsustainable resource extraction are not only harmful for biodiversity but also affect the future productivity of the ocean for economic activity. Sustainable and responsible management of our water resources, including oceans, is absolutely critical. The private sector should work with countries to put in place the needed policies that safeguard our freshwater systems and the ocean via national and international regulation and governance mechanisms. This could be done collaboratively through initiatives led by UN Water, the World Bank and others to promote the sustainable use and management of water resources and oceans for the most vulnerable communities.

Together, the global business community and G20 leaders must collaborate on enabling an inclusive, sustainable and growing world economy. From curtailing climate change to fostering more efficient use of resources to advancing adaptations of living conditions to climate change, we have work to do – as a healthy and sustainable environment is essential to economic growth. By addressing these challenges through an international coordinated effort, I am confident we will achieve a prosperous future not only for our generation, but those to come.  

About the Author

About the Author

abunayyan headshot
Chair of the B20 Energy, Sustainability & Climate Taskforce

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