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As Gulf climate changes, MAF malls must become places to live, not just shop: CEO

With Gulf temperatures expected to soar by 2100, the retail sector will be forced to evolve

Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News
From left: Gaith Shocair, Anne Le Guennec, CEO at Enova and Ebrahim Al Zu’bi, head of sustainability at Majid Al Futtaim holding at a roundtable to discuss regional trends in sustainability in Dubai on Tuesday.
Gulf News

DUBAI: A changing climate across the Middle East in the coming years will force Gulf retailers to evolve, according to the head of Majid Al Futtaim’s shopping division.

The Gulf countries will experience a dramatic increase in temperature over the next 80 years, leaving large parts of the region beyond the limit of human survival, according to at least three studies published since 2015.

“If there’s one thing we observe about our species, it’s the ability to innovate and survive. Our species survives in places like Antarctica and elsewhere, so we innovate to survive,” said Gaith Shocair, CEO of Shopping Malls at Majid Al Futtaim, speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of the Emirates Green Building Council Congress on Tuesday.

In 2015, Prof Jeremy Pal and Prof Elfatih Eltahir, both at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change that the results of their study exposed “a specific regional hot spot where climate change, in the absence of significant [carbon cuts], is likely to severely impact human habitability in the future.”

When asked how such increases in temperature would change his business structurally, Shocair noted that climate change would intensify the need for air-conditioned indoor spaces that served as places to live, not just shop.

“Clearly, the confines of a physical space that is air-conditioned, that has the green space, the natural light, actually becomes more appealing over time, as people begin to see these centres as lifestyle destinations, rather than just your average shopping destination,” Shocair said.

A keen awareness of the heat that the Gulf delivers five months a year, and the impact that the climate has on the way that people live their lives, is informing Majid Al Futtaim’s strategy.

“You’ll find that a lot of our plans, whether they are in re-fitting or retro-fitting the existing centres … or the new centres we have, is really about creating that … hub for the community, where a lot of interaction happens, whether its retail, or commercial activities …” he said.

“I see that as a positive for our business, and I hope it’s not as dire as these reports suggest. Time will tell,” Shocair added.