George Pataki is sitting in a conference room at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), not far from the new Middle East offices of law firm Chadbourne & Park, for whom Pataki has worked since 2007. He joined just months after the end of his third term as New York Governor.
Between January 1995 and December 2006, Pataki helped secure the protection of more than one million acres of open space in New York, pushed through the adoption of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, implemented the nation’s first green building tax credit, and enacted landmark brownfield legislation as well as programmes designed to enhance the production and use of alternative energy.
Six years after having stepped down as Governor, his focus is still trained on renewable energy and environmental issues, and he insists his time in the corporate world has enabled him to further understand the ways in which public and private sectors might work together to achieve sustainable change.
“My concept has always been that you incentivise the result, and then let technology and the market dictate the winner,” says Pataki. By way of example, Pataki recalls an initiative from his first year in the governor’s office. At the time, New York City buses were notorious for their noxious diesel exhaust fumes, which would billow up onto the sidewalks and straight into the faces and lungs of city residents. In early 1995, Pataki approached the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and gave them an unexpected order.
“I said we’re going to start using hybrid buses, and I want you, in your next bid for new equipment, to ask for hybrid buses,” he recalls. “They thought I was out of my mind as there were no hybrid buses.
“The theory was that if the governor puts out an order for US$400m for buses that meet this standard on emissions, then somebody’s going to work to be able to respond to that demand,” Pataki explains. “It worked and we had manufacturing companies in upstate New York that started building buses for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and then began to export.”
A key element of Pataki’s public policy philosophy is that governments should build sustainable policies that are not inconsistent with, but share synergies with, economic growth.
Public policy, he says, should always be looking for efficiency that makes economic sense as well as environmental sense. “That was one of the arguments that I made from the very beginning: we are looking to improve the environment and create a sustainable way for life, but in a way that will enhance the economic opportunity for people across the economic sphere and from different economic backgrounds,” he says.
“Dubai is doing a great many things in dealing with the issues of sustainability and climate change, while at the same time promoting economic growth,” he continues. “That is the winning formula, because too often the people out there promoting sustainability forget about the economic side of the equation, and vice versa. That is where appropriate government leadership matters, so that you can bring those two different positions together in a way that is synergistic.”
Pataki points to the UAE’s role as the home of the International Renewable Energy Agency, as a sign of the country’s commitment to alternative energy. He also hails Masdar City in UAE capital Abu Dhabi – a model for sustainable urban development and clean technologies – as a “brilliant concept, not just for what is being built on the ground, but because of the research that it will provoke”.
So how important is it that the hydro-carbon-rich Gulf states such as the UAE, invest money into the research and development of renewable energy, and environmental protection?
“It’s very important – not just for the sustainability of the global economy – but for the sustainability of states that today are to a large extent reliant on petrodollars for their economy,” says Pataki. “I don’t think that the global demand for petroleum will go away, if anything the need will increase, but so too will the need for alternative resources and alternative fuels.”
According to Pataki, the UAE is making “enormous progress” on the road towards becoming a more sustainable, energy-efficient economy. “The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority has a very intelligent policy to reduce energy usage – particularly among consumers – by having a layered pricing structure based on utilisation.
There are innovative things like that being done throughout the region, and there are some very positive steps being made,” he says. “I am very impressed, and I get the sense that the UAE is aware not just of the importance of reducing its energy use, but the message it can send to the rest of the globe,” continues Pataki. “Not only is the UAE a tremendous source of fossil fuels, but it also has an awareness of an obligation to intelligently implement sustainable solutions.
“Dubai, for example, is not just doing this for the sake of Dubai. It’s looking to be a model so that other governments will come and say, ‘hey, this works. It’s not inconsistent with economic growth, so let’s give it a go ourselves’.”