LONDON: The efforts Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are making to transition toward cleaner, greener economies are “world leading,” the lord mayor of the City of London said on Monday.
Nicholas Lyons, who visited the Kingdom and the UAE this year and is set to visit Qatar and Bahrain next week, also said there is “fantastic energy” in the Saudi Vision 2030 agenda for reforms and diversification of the nation’s economy.
“The scale of the transition is very substantial, of course, and the hydrocarbon economies have to manage very deftly this transition away from what has been a source of huge wealth,” he told Arab News.
“But they really are, genuinely, world-leading in the moves that they’re making into renewable technologies and clean energy, and they’re investing huge amounts of money in that.”
The levels of investment being made in this regard by Gulf Cooperation Council countries not only offer the prospect of significant financial returns, Lyons said, but will be critical in driving the growth of renewable technology companies and accelerating solutions to the climate crisis.
“I take my hat off to those nations, particularly those hydrocarbon nations who have really grasped the scale of the challenge and are really driving forward now with solutions,” he said.
With the UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, set to return to the Gulf in November this year, when Dubai will host, Lyons said he was positive about the role the City of London can play in assisting countries achieve sustainable development.
“As far as the City of London is concerned, we are absolutely committed to helping do everything that we can to fund that journey to net zero as efficiently as possible,” he said.
“That’s not just a comment about how we can help in the UK but how London, as a global financial center, plays its part as a leading underwriter of green bonds and green loans, and with its expertise in insurance, risk and project management, working with countries around the world on sustainable infrastructure programs.”
Lyons, who has been lord mayor since November 2022, a role he called a “privilege” and “a dream come true,” said discussions in some countries surrounding the revision of net-zero and carbon-neutrality targets was more a case of realistic thinking rather than defeatism.
“I think it’s certainly possible to interpret some of the things that we’re hearing now as slightly backward steps,” he said. “I’d like to think rather than it being a backward step in terms of commitment, it’s just more realism in terms of the ability to deliver.
“That, I think, is particularly true where countries, in wanting to be bold and make clear statements of their intent, have set unrealistic targets in terms of timing.
“Maybe I’m being optimistic but I choose to interpret most of the comments that we’ve heard as being in that category, rather than people scaling back.”
Lyons said that much like his discussions with GCC officials in February, talks during his upcoming trip to the region will highlight both the dynamic inward investment opportunities the UK can offer and the ways in which the City of London can offer expertise to countries in the Gulf and the British firms looking to operate in the region.
“There are two big areas that tend to dominate the conversation,” he said. “One is inward investment into the UK. We have a multi-year campaign to get overseas asset owners investing more money through the UK — not necessarily in the UK, but through the UK asset-management structure. There have been very significant investments in the UK by GCC countries, which is terrific, but that’s one of the areas that we’ll talk about.
“The other is around green and sustainable finance. The two come together when it comes to investment in sort of green tech-type companies and fintech (financial technology).
“The conversation is often about how London can help that process and talking about the different strengths of London and what we could do, particularly, I think, in Gulf areas, (where) the insurance market is relatively underdeveloped and also the long-term savings market is also quite small and needs to be built up. And so there are conversations about whether or not we can encourage British firms to set up in the Gulf countries.”
The City of London published its “Vision for Economic Growth — A Roadmap to Prosperity” report this month, the preparation of which involved collaboration with more than 300 stakeholders across the financial and professional services industries over a half-year period.
The report identified the challenges and shifts facing the financial sector, from the application of artificial intelligence to cryptocurrencies, big data, and ways in which they can be addressed, Lyons said.
“With all of the strengths that London has as a global financial center, there are nevertheless seismic challenges and changes taking place in the world of finance,” he added.
“You can’t hide under a duvet and pretend they’re not coming; they may be complicated issues but you have to have a strategy around them. You have to have your regulators start to develop a regime that can manage them.”
Lyons said he also hopes a future growth fund can tap into the “huge expertise” in the UK in sectors such as fintech, green tech and biotech, and offer additional home-grown funding to what is already available from North America and the Gulf.
“These companies, at the moment, are very heavily reliant on international money, particularly North American money (and) we love the fact that we have great investment from the Gulf in these industries,” he said.
“But if we can also provide lots of UK money to sit alongside all of this foreign direct investment, those companies don’t need ultimately to go and list in the United States, where we lose the intellectual property, we lose the people and we lose the value and all of the tax revenue that comes from it.”