Diversity is at the Heart of Sustainability: Dana Darwish
In recent years, the Middle East, the world's oil producing heartland, has been investing heavily in renewable energy technologies. For decades synonymous with oil and gas, the MENA region is now evolving into a haven for renewables.
As the sector (clean energy) within the region continues to accelerate, women have been playing a pivotal role in the process.
A few days back, Sustainability Middle East (SME) interviewed Dana Darwish, ESG Advisory Consultant at WSP in Middle East, during which she highlighted gender balance inequality in the sector, which needs attention.
As part of WSP’s Environment & Sustainability services, the ESG advisory team covers expertise around ESG. Expertise include ESG strategy development, integration and implementation, ESG cultural and operational transformation, reporting and disclosures.
Ms Darwish, who is also the UAE Chapter Leader for WiRE (Women in Renewable Energy) said that 'enormous efforts are needed to address gender balance inequality at workplace'. This and many more topics were discussed at large during the interview, held recently. The excerpts....
Q. What is ESG for you, and how important do you think ESG is for the Middle East region?
A. As a start, it is vital to emphasize that there is no universal definition to “ESG” as it differs accordingly and respectively from one industry to another, if not, one company to another.
As an ESG professional, I would define ESG as a well-rounded framework for different stakeholder groups, including investors, customers, businesses, and community groups, to assess how a company manages its material environmental, social and governance issues.
ESG is a holistic approach that focuses on how parts of a broader system connect and relate to one another. When a company embeds the “ESG thinking” within its different business operations and areas, it enhances its ability to create and sustain long-term value in today’s rapidly changing world.
In a nutshell, ESG is measurable, systematic and stakeholder centric.
Globally, we can see an increasing pressure from governments, stock exchanges, investors, customers, media and workforce for businesses to progress on ESG issues, enhance transparency and reporting, integrate ESG management and set measurable commitments.
We are currently witnessing the same shift and demand in the Middle East. Stakeholders in the region are becoming more aware to businesses’ impact on the environment, society and governance.
As a business, it is no longer an “option” to consider ESG issues in your day-to-day activities, it is a “requirement” to keep up with the evolving demands from the regulatory landscape, investors and the public.
As an effect of the increasing demands, we see an increase of mandatory ESG requirements regionally.
Businesses in the region need to harness ESG to create opportunities such as enhanced reputation, improved risk mitigation, capital growth, increased efficiency and innovation.
Q. What forms of renewable energy do you think are going to be game changers over the next 10 years, and why?
A. Energy transition requires a well-balanced bundle of low carbon energy sources coupled with efficient technologies.
There are a couple of renewable energy forms that will be gamechangers in the next ten years. This includes solar power and green hydrogen due to today’s technological advances.
On one side, we see that solar power is becoming increasingly efficient and cost effective and, correspondingly, we see that green hydrogen is positioned to become a promising alternative to fossil fuel.
It is also important to mention that the improvements in the energy storage technologies are significant to overcome the intermittency of renewable energy sources, which was considered a prominent setback of renewable energy deployment.
Q. How do you gauge the mood of the region, UAE, to be specific in terms of transitioning to renewable energy?
A. The UAE has set a net zero target by 2050 as a national drive and has made significant investments of around $160 billion in renewable energy.
The national mega-clean and renewable energy projects, such as Noor Abu Dhabi, Barakah Nuclear Power Plant, and Mohammed Bin Rashid Solar Park, support the UAE’s pathway towards becoming a leader in the field of renewable energy.
The UAE is also cooperating with global players to scale the adoption of renewable energies.
Examples of bilateral relations that are geared towards driving the green transition include the Emirati-German Energy Partnership, the UAE and Netherlands MoU on hydrogen energy, and the UAE Special Envoy for Climate Change and the Government of France’s MoU to maximise the social and economic benefits of climate action in line with the Paris Agreement and COP28 ambitions.
Q. Women in Renewable Energy, tell us more about it.
A. The passion to advance the role and recognition of women in the energy sector kindles our daily activities at Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE).
WiRE strategy includes student chapters, capacity-building field trips, networking meet-ups, awards recognition programs, student bursaries, speed mentoring, speed interviewing, spotlights, conferences, workshops, and more.
WiRE has chapters in various countries across the world including UAE. I am one of the Chapter Leaders at WiRE UAE and work closely with WiRE Global. At our chapter, we have an established volunteering program and we are always open to onboard more.
We are currently working on planning and implementing our COP28 initiatives.
Q. We have seen that the sector - Sustainability, ESG is well poised, gender-balanced, which is very encouraging, and in most cases, Women have taken the lead - Your thoughts?
A. I see that diversity is at the heart of ESG/sustainability in all its forms, including gender, racial, cultural and age diversity. Being a huge advocate for female empowerment, it is heart-warming to see an increasing female representation in the sustainability/ESG sector and that more females have taken leadership roles.
However, it is essential to highlight that gender balance is not yet fully achieved and that females are still under-represented overall in comparison to males. As a result, enormous efforts need to be done to address gender inequality in the workplace.
Integrating ESG thinking within the boardroom and at a company-wide scale supports initiatives to accelerate progress toward a more equitable and sustainable future.
Q. COP27 was in Egypt, key takeaways, and COP28 in the UAE, how hopeful you are about the outcome of this key event?
A. To begin, the presence of COP27 and COP28 in the Middle East reflects that addressing climate change is a global challenge that requires international efforts and collaboration.
The key takeaways from COP27 was the commitment to establish the loss and damage fund, an increased involvement of youth representation, and increased climate commitment globally and regionally.
By COP28, I am hopeful that the structure of the loss and damage fund will be established.
In principle, climate change is inherently a social issue and matter, and therefore I believe COP28 will ensure more meaningful participations with diverse representation to ensure that climate action is an inclusive process.
Moreover, I am hopeful that we will move from pledges to actions, from the countries.
Q. Message and ideas to hard-to-abate sectors to check emissions?
Setting up realistic abatement targets
Providing sustainable financing measures and grants to allow for an increased adoption rate of newly available cross-cutting technologies to drive the cost curve down to feasible levels.
Focus on enhancing energy efficiency of energy intensive steps and minimize the losses where possible.
Replacement of conventional material with sustainable material which could significantly reduce the carbon footprints.
Integrating solutions beyond the core operation of the hard-to-abate sectors like carbon capture and storage (CCS) and cryogenic capture