A sustainable future: GE's Roger Martella shares his thoughts
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Interview: GE’s Roger Martella on paving the way to a sustainable future

Interview: GE’s Roger Martella on paving the way to a sustainable future

The chief sustainability officer talks about the UAE’s growing status as a global driver of sustainability initiatives and explains how public-private sector partnerships can drive decarbonisation

Neesha Salian
Interview Roger Martella of GE

Roger Martella, group vice president, chief sustainability officer – GE and GE Vernova, and the global head of Engagement, Government Affairs and Policy, GE Vernova, is a strong advocate of climate action.

During a recent conversation with Gulf Business, Martella shared how the UAE is setting an example in climate innovation and investment. He also talked about GE’s role in supporting decarbonisation and electrification, and why public-private sector collaboration is essential to climate progress.

Here are excerpts from the interview: with Roger Martella

You have expressed your admiration for the UAE’s efforts in driving transformative climate action, referring to it as the “UAE Effect”. Tell us more about it.

The global spotlight is on the UAE, and a key reason for it is that the country is hosting the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) later this year. But there’s more to it: the UAE is rapidly emerging as a leading global influencer of climate change, decarbonisation and energy transition. Historically, the US and EU have led this space and will continue to do so, but I see the UAE rising to that level, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.

As it works towards COP28 and its ambitious net zero goals, the country and its leaders’ actions herald a new direction that will have a lasting global impact, just as the Paris Agreement has since 2015.

I refer to this as the “UAE Effect”– a phenomenon where the country is demonstrating leadership, investment and initiative in driving decarbonisation and innovation. With the UAE aiming to host the most consequential COP since Paris, the momentum is building towards a move from “policy” talk to “business” action. We are seeing a realigned direction that focuses on results and outcomes; redefining climate action as an opportunity, not a risk; and reorienting public-private partnerships to achieve results in the near and long term.

Simply put, the UAE is the first to run COP like a business, which means its operationalising commitments, which lead to measurable and accountable metrics, key performance indicators and targets.

The UAE sees decarbonisation and the energy transition as a competitive advantage; it’s an opportunity for its people, industries and economy. Technology and innovation are fuelling this vision, backed by investments to enable its fruition.

I admire the UAE for its commitment to youth and diversity. I see that represented when I visit its schools, universities and organisations. I see many women in leadership positions, both in the public and private sectors, and at COP28. The UAE is bringing together the best talent from all over the world. So, I appreciate how the country is promoting a culture of excellence across all sectors.

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How is GE supporting the UAE’s focus on decarbonisation and energy transition?

One of the things about GE and the UAE is the close alignment between how we approach these issues. The country’s leadership and GE both believe that solving climate change, enabling decarbonisation, and driving the energy transition involves innovation and technology. The UAE is invested in innovating the required technology, and we are the world’s leading company in the innovation of energy equipment. We also help produce 30 per cent of the world’s energy in 170 countries.

We have the most diverse portfolio of energy-producing equipment, from renewable energy to the world’s most efficient gas turbines to physical and digital grid solutions, as well as breakthrough technologies such as small modular reactors, hydrogen as a fuel, and carbon capture. And these are the technologies that we need to innovate and employ to solve climate change. So we have this opportunity to strengthen  our incredible partnership with the UAE, where we don’t want to just be installing technology in the UAE; we also want to collaborate  with it on the demonstration of technologies and the development of breakthrough technologies.

We ultimately want to help the UAE build supply chains, so that the technology can be manufactured in the UAE and then exported to other countries in the region. This has benefits both from a workforce and economic perspective. It also advances decarbonisation.

We also regularly engage with the leaders on a daily basis in the UAE and the COP28 presidency to lend our support and expertise in these areas.

In terms of regulations, do you think we’re getting there globally?

We certainly are in a transformative era where things are moving in a much stronger direction. The momentum is much better. Historically, the approach to climate change regulation has been kind of a ‘stick’ or authoritative approach. And there still is some of that. What we saw last year in the US with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was the first climate change law in the US. It used the ‘carrot’ approach, incentivising companies to do what they do best: innovate and deploy technology. We’re already seeing the dividends of that pay off very rapidly in the US in less than a year.

At GE, we have announced new manufacturing for clean energy technology, involving thousands of jobs because of the policies linked to the act. We’re seeing more countries adopt these incentive-based policies that are attractive to companies because companies love certainty. Certainty enables us to go to other places and build the workforce, factories and supply chain, and motivate more of the world to invest in the clean energy supply chain.

On a global scale, do you see us moving in the right direction, considering the urgency for decarbonisation?

I’ve been in this space my whole career, and I’ve been one of those people who’ve been critical  – and often frustrated  – because we’ve done a lot of talking about the issue (for decades) and not followed it up with enough action.

However, I have to credit the EU and US for their efforts toward decarbonisation. On an optimistic note, the past 18 months have left me hopeful – and excited. It’s the early days, but I see decarbonisation efforts gaining traction. In fact, I think the UAE is going to greatly accelerate the transition this year. I also believe it’s going to be the next generation, who will pick up the pace further as we go forward. What I want to do is to make sure that GE and our partners like the UAE, support these future leaders. I hope we can prime them well for the task – by creating momentum towards action, setting the right policies, incentives and framework. To paint a realistic picture, it’s going to involve implementation over decades, but I am confident that we will continue to advance the breakthrough technologies that are needed to accelerate the transition to a sustainable future.

Where (in terms of sectors) will we see the fastest adoption?

We’ll see the most change in the energy sector, both because it’s a significant contributor of greenhouse gases and the least difficult to decarbonise. The energy sector will pave the way to help other sectors decarbonise. These sectors will rely on electrification to reduce emissions.

We’ll see transportation come next, particularly with the impact seen in segments such as passenger cars and light-duty trucks. Aviation, which is led by its own net zero goals, is also being impacted, with the growing focus on sustainable aviation fuels. There’s an increasing emphasis on heavy-emitting industrial sectors such as construction and other industrial applications, with electrification driving the change here as well.

At the grassroots, how people address energy efficiency and their carbon footprint – in their lifestyles, how they commute, etc – will also be a key factor. There are many opportunities – in residential and office building designs and transportation infrastructure – that can be  leveraged to help us decarbonise. A lot of that is already happening, but I think we will see it advance in a more coordinated way in the near term.

Tell us about GE’s focus on electrification.

There are 700 million people in the world who lack access to reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity.

As a 130-year-old company in this space, we believe strongly that we must improve the quality of life for everybody in the world; everyone has a right to live a prosperous and comfortable  life. And so, as we look to decarbonise, we also want to make sure we improve access to electricity for people in communities across the world. GE is as committed to electrification as it is to decarbonisation. These are the pillars of a sustainable world.

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