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Green for go as UK and UAE count down to Cop28

The environment will be a key theme as the UK and UAE look to commercialise innovations in sustainability

Lister UK UAE Twitter
Edward Lister, co-chairman of the UAE-UK Business Council, met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman last year to discuss relations

2023 will be a particularly important year for trade and investment relations between the UK and the UAE. 

First, the UK-GCC free trade negotiations will be nearing their conclusion and many of the existing barriers to doing business will hopefully be removed. Attention will then turn to how the UAE and the UK can build on the agreement to develop a bilateral relationship that optimises both countries’ strengths in new technologies and industries.

As the UAE continues to grow its network of comprehensive economic partnership agreements – 26 new deals are planned for the next seven to eight years – British companies might examine how they can harness these agreements.

One way would be to use the UAE as a springboard for capturing business opportunities in the Cepa markets, such as Israel, India and Indonesia, with Emirati ports and free zones as transhipment points.

The UAE-UK Business Council’s priorities for 2023 will reflect those of next year’s Cop28 climate summit, to be held in Dubai, and sustainability will underpin much of our work. 

We will be starting the year by running our campaign on opportunities for UK-UAE collaboration in the decarbonisation of the construction sector, which, viewed in its entirety, is responsible for nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions. 

We have many member companies from both countries that have expertise in commercialising green innovations in the built environment, and this campaign aims to foster new partnerships. 

We will also be hosting a day of events on UAE-UK collaboration in sustainable aviation at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi in January. 

As the year progresses, we will look to mirror other priority themes that are emerging ahead of Cop28 – waste management and waste to energy, where both countries have strong expertise, might be one potential area for a future campaign led by the Business Council. 

Cop28 has been described by the UAE as a summit that will be “inclusive and disruptive”. It will also be a summit that holds participants to account over pledges made at previous summits – a stocktake of promises made and commitments delivered. 

Edward Lister was chief strategic adviser to former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: Twitter

The UAE-UK Business Council looks forward to taking part in it and we will be discussing with our members early in the new year how we can best add value as an organisation that links business to government in both countries.

We are hopefully seeing a return to political and fiscal stability in the UK, which is very much needed given the economic challenges the country will face in 2023. 

Inflation will most likely be back in single-digit figures early in the new year, and fall to around 5 percent before 2023 ends, but high energy costs and interest rates will continue to affect consumer spending and business recovery. In this environment, exports are unlikely to return to growth until later in the year. 

The UK will continue to be a very attractive destination for UAE investment, though. With over half of Mubadala’s five-year £10 billion ($12.1 billion) Sovereign Investment Partnership already invested into sectors such as life sciences and digital infrastructure – and with real projects in hydrogen collaboration emerging from the Partnership For the Future Agreement signed last year – the appetite from both sides for further investment is strong.

The UAE’s economic prospects for 2023 look more promising, with growth anticipated to exceed 6 percent, fuelled by economic diversification and policies that encourage homegrown startups and inward investment from technology-rich companies in a range of sectors. 

The new visa regime will attract the best talent from overseas to build skills-based industries. As the minister for economy, Abdullah bin Touq, said recently, the UAE was known for sea ports in the 1950s and airports in the 1980s – and is set to be a “brainport” for the 2020s. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is sadly settling into a long war of attrition, but the world will become more adept at responding to the challenges to energy security and commodity supply chains posed by this war. 

As global trading nations, the UK and the UAE are resilient enough to overcome these issues and innovative enough to accelerate the energy transition. 

Our White Paper on Energy Transition, which will be published to coincide with Sustainability Week in Abu Dhabi in January, will offer recommendations on how the UK and the UAE can collaborate further in this sector.

The 2023 event that I am most looking forward to will take place in April – the landing of the Rashid rover on the moon. 

This is a major milestone in space exploration, enhancing our scientific knowledge of the moon in advance of the next human visitors in 2026, and paving the way for missions to Mars and beyond. 

The rover was designed by an entirely Emirati team and it says a great deal about the tenacity of the UAE that such a complex mission, building on the success of the Mars Hope mission, has been accomplished in such a short space of time. 

I wish all those involved in the mission the best of luck.

Lord Udny-Lister is co-chairman of the UAE-UK Business Council

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