Sustainability agenda creates challenges and opportunities for regional petrochemical industry, say experts at 3rd GPCA Sustainability Conference

The global drive towards mitigating climate change presents clear challenges for business; however, there are opportunities on the horizon, said speakers at the 3rd Sustainability Conference in Dubai. Hosted by the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association, the forum gathered industry experts from the downstream sector, government officials and global consultancies to discuss the latest developments related to the subject.
“Sustainable development can be defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” said Ahmad Al-Ohali, Chief Executive Officer, Sipchem. “It is often referred to as the triple bottom line which focuses on people, planet and profit. The key question that arises is how do we translate the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and visions into sector strategies that create value?”
Al-Ohali highlighted the fact that all six GCC states have national visions that cover major themes related to diversification, education, capable national workforce and climate change mitigation.
“Sustainability requires end to end linkages throughout the operations of your business. The key is linking this into actions that also contribute to global goals,” continued Al-Ohali. “For example, if the sustainable development goal is about ‘Zero hunger’, the relevant sector would be health and nutrition. Additionally, there would be a requirement for applications that provide solutions for medical professionals related to nutrition, as well as safe packaging for existing food. This is where the chemical industry can step in with innovative solutions.”
Overall, the outlook is positive, according to Al-Ohali. “From 2007- 2016, 139 petrochemical projects were introduced in the GCC valued at US$215 billion. This is tremendous growth and there are similar opportunities in the future,” concluded Al-Ohali. “However, the future holds no certainties so we must collaborate to find solutions that meet the needs of worldwide mega-trends like population growth, urbanization, increased energy demand and economic globalization.”
From the regional leadership’s perspective, climate change is a top priority, according to a senior government official.
“Climate change is not just a threat; it is an opportunity,” said Fahed Al Hammadi, director of Climate Change at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. “It can drive greater economic growth and create jobs.”
Al Hammadi explained that the region’s petrochemical industry can focus on how to create value from the sustainability agenda through technologies and solutions that benefit their business, while simultaneously meeting environmental goals. “The region’s oil and gas industry is a good example– Abu Dhabi, for instance, has reduced its gas flaring by 34% in its oil fields since 1995. And the petrochemical industry across the GCC is using carbon capture technology to store and use carbon dioxide, creating closed loop operations.”
During the Sustainability Conference, the GPCA released their annual Responsible Care Metrics report, which measures health, safety and environmental (HSE) indicators across the GPCA’s member companies.
“Responsible Care indicators report sensitive data like energy usage, water consumption and worker safety. This year, we have gathered 100% of data against the measurement– an action that is critical for measuring the baseline and future projections for sustainable metrics. This reflects an industry- wide evolution towards sustainability,” said Dr. Abdulwahab Al- Sadoun, Secretary General, GPCA. “With the Paris Agreement at COP21 last year, measurement of activities like carbon emissions and energy usage is critical, especially in the light that the GCC countries are signatories to a binding agreement to mitigate climate change.”
According to the Responsible Care metrics report, GCC companies have reduced their total energy usage, from 63.01 million tons of fuel equivalent in 2014, to 36.66 million tons of fuel equivalent in 2015. While this is a positive development, metrics related to carbon emissions show a slight increase in the same period, meaning that more work needs to be done to mitigate the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.
“While some indices show positive improvements, others indicate that the petrochemical industry still has some work to do,” explained Dr. Al- Sadoun. “With COP22 around the corner, you can expect the regulatory action and legal developments around the Paris Agreement to take shape. As citizens of a global economy, the GCC’s petrochemical sector must figure out strategies that harmonize with the worldwide drive towards sustainability– for the good of the environment and for the good of future generations.”