John Harker

By John Harker

The year 2021 has been a trial for much of Humanity, which has confronted both the Covid-19 Pandemic and the harsh impact of Climate Change.

On a personal level, I have spent the year working from home, not in travel by airline, but interacting via zoom, or Skype. It never used to be like this! In earlier years, I traveled widely.

In 2010, I paid my first visit to Abu Dhabi. I was accompanying the premier of my Canadian Province, Nova Scotia, on a “trade mission” to the region. We two were privileged to meet with the executive of ADNOC [Abu Dhabi National Oil Company], the national oil and gas giant.

I well remember one particular interaction. The CEO told us that the company now met all appropriate international standards, for the industry and for responsible companies.

In response, I offered the hope that before too long, ADNOC would not only meet international standards but would play a key role in developing the standards. To me, developing standards, meeting them, and imagining more and better, this is the core of innovation, whatever the industry, oil and gas, solar energy, or wind power. And Innovation can be “social” as much as it can be “technological.”

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When I became a university president, I was aware of the need to contribute to the strengths, values, and traditions of the local community, and foster its engagement with the world around it.

Throughout this time, I traveled extensively, including visits to Abu Dhabi. Much of the travel was related to a development of great significance to me.

The university had on its staff key individuals with experience in the oil and gas industry. This we built into a vibrant partnership with ExxonMobil, who then asked that we create a private company with which Exxon could develop formal ties. We did, and our company became Exxon’s “Go-To” provider for LNG [Liquified National Gas] training. And it was this skill set which let to my meeting with ADNOC.

I was, at the time, not only handling the partnership with ExxonMobil, but busy establishing a center on sustainability in energy and the environment, and I was able to introduce its key people to faculty at the then Masdar Institute, uniquely a Solar-powered facility initiated by the Masdar company now operating in Armenia.

My interaction with this Institute led, when I retired from the university, to my being invited to Abu Dhabi to lead Masdar’s 2014 British Petroleum (BP) Seminar on Innovation.

My interest in renewables and innovation has continued and is very much on my mind today. Our university was the first in Canada to install its own full-size wind turbine, and I find it hard to imagine a future without the best-informed use of all Renewables, particularly those readily available.

Concerning Armenia, I am on record as advocating that the linkage between renewable energy and innovation should be central to achieving government’s stated intention to foster a “high tech” economy for Armenia, which would have to be partnered by an embrace of education and training, and I am convinced that Masdar, the company behind the Institute, could stimulate this.

And hopefully this would stimulate a necessary engagement with ESG across the economy.

My abiding commitment to ESG, regard for the Environmental, Social, and Governance impacts of action, is what propels me to pen these thoughts. And prompts me to admit that, unlike some corporate figures, I do not think of ESG as simply Risk Management, but as the opening up of prospects for “purposive dialogue” between and among “stakeholders” which can enable companies and communities to achieve great things, to the benefit of all.

And, yes, I do want Armenia to meet the needs of its people, as I hope was signified in an earlier article I wrote for the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, where I set out during the conflict with Azerbaijan some thoughts about Armenia as a landlocked country and ancient seat of civilization.

But earlier than that, in 2019, an opinion piece of mine was published, before Covid, in the mass-circulation China Daily. I wrote it after a visit to China at the invitation of the China-Europe Association for Trade and Economic Co-operation.

In it I proposed the creation of an “Electric Vehicle” highway between China and Europe, which would itself call for the experience and ingenuity of the world of Masdar, and perhaps its Armenian partner.

A new Silk Road indeed, and thinking of it takes me back to my first visit to Armenia, when I was lucky to stop at a fourteenth-century “caravanserai”, built to house the intrepid travelers between China and Europe, building global trade and economic co-operation!

I hope that the partnership between Masdar and Armenia will, in fact, impact positively on not only development in Armenia, but also on international co-operation, so vital today.

And partnerships such as this will surely multiply in coming years; witness, for example, news that Saudi Aramco is to invest almost US$1 billion to acquire 30 percent of the Sudair 1,500 megawatt solar project which is due to come on line in 2022, a pivotal year for us all.

A recent study undertaken by university researchers in the UK, Europe, and the US has established that Solar panels on half the world’s rooftops could meet our planet’s entire electricity demand. And reduce our carbon footprints.

Responsible companies in the Solar power universe are going to be essential to meeting the challenge of Climate Change, and they will very likely have major impacts on necessary innovation, including those in education and social progress.

One other impact that could be very timely is also worth a thought.

After seeing the caravanserai, my journey back to Yerevan brought me past many villages where cut “logs” of peat were carefully stored to serve as winter fuel.

Peat is basically plant material built up over centuries. It represents a mere 3 percent of the Earth’s landscape, but it can store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests.

I know that Russia is well aware of this, and is investing heavily in Peatland restoration. Armenia, with help from the solar and wind industries, and hydro, water, power where available, could free rural communities from dependence on peat, and thus play a significant role in fighting climate change. Come to Armenia, Capture the Sun, Save the Water, and Free the Peat!

And this approach would, will, necessitate skills development with many “spin-offs”, among them Innovation in every sense of the word. At my university, and in my community, I fashioned an exhortation: We must sustain Tradition and Foster Innovation.

I believe that Masdar can be a hugely important partner to an Armenia that has much to contribute to just how humanity meets the challenges facing it. Beginning in 2022!

(John Harker is chair of the Harker Associates Consulting in Canada. He is also chair of the Amulsar Independent Advisory Panel.)

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