Davos 2020: Calls to climate action and everything else you may have missed

Over the past few days, reports and announcements around sustainability have been launched at a pace, as more than 3,000 business leaders, policymakers and thought leaders and Bill Nye gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum (WEF). This round-up highlights the key green talking points that you need to know.

Davos 2020: Calls to climate action and everything else you may have missed

Pictured clockwise from top left: The Congress Centre; plastics campaigner Melati Wijsen; activist Greta Thunberg and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Images: WEF

The aim of the summit is to co-create solutions to some of the world’s most pressing environmental and socio-economic challenges and to give attendees a platform on which to make fresh announcements or commitments in these fields.

At last year’s event, discussions around the circular economy took centre-stage, with much time dedicated to how and why businesses and nations should address the need to design out waste and keep resources in the economy.

Here, edie rounds up all the key sustainability announcements from this year’s Forum.

Before the Forum

In preparation for the summit, the WEF released its annual global risk report, as it has done for 15 years. For the first time in the analysis’ history, the top five risks in terms of likelihood and severity were climate-related. No risks considered solely economic made the report’s top ten.

The WEF has called this shift away from economic risk dominating its charts as “worrying, given the continuing global economic malaise that will limit progress in all other areas, including climate action”.

But key voices across the green economy were quick to highlight the report’s importance to policymakers, investors and corporates, expressing hopes that its climate focus would spread.

Then, the day before the Forum began, the WEF called on all businesses attending the event to set net-zero targets and strategies, in line with – or ahead of – a 2050 deadline. The Forum noted that emissions are increasing by 1.5% annually, far off the 3-6% required annual reduction between now and 2030 to limit global warming to at least 2C, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The likes of Greta Thunberg and Ursula von der Layen also issued statements or gave interviews ahead of the Forum. Thunberg vowed to use her platform to inspire a shift away from fossil fuels.

Elsewhere, Signify highlighted the work it had completed to make Davos more sustainable operationally. Since the 2019 Forum, the Congress Centre has reduced its carbon emissions by 82% by investing in energy efficiency technologies and low-carbon energy.

Day One

The biggest green announcement at Day One of the Forum was the publication of the second ‘Circularity Gap’ report – a piece of research showcasing how business and government action to date has helped and hindered progress towards a circular economy. Produced by Dutch think-tank Circle Economy, the report concluded that more than 100 billion tonnes of resources are now being extracted from Earth globally, and that less than 9% of these resources are reused.

Circle Economy used its platform to call for the introduction of national circular economy “roadmaps”, bolstered by policies designed to make the business case for reuse and recycling stronger. 

Another major report came from the International Energy Agency (IEA), documenting the oil and gas sector’s approach to the low-carbon transition. A key finding was that less than 1% of the investments collectively made by the sector in 2018 went towards low-carbon activities such as building renewable energy infrastructure or installing carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) technologies.

Additionally, President Trump arrived at the summit to tout the US’s progress around fields such as clean energy and job creation – despite his administration’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement. He faced backlash after calling climate activists “prophets of doom”.


Elsewhere, Lloyd’s Banking Group pledged to halve the carbon emissions generated by projects it finances by 2030, while a string of 24 other banks were criticised by Greenpeace for attending the Forum to talk sustainability while funnelling billions into fossil fuel projects.

Day Two

The second day of the Forum saw Greta Thunberg take to the stage to deliver her first public speeches since COP25 in Madrid last month.

The teenage activist from Sweden once again urged leaders to “unite behind the science” detailed in the IPCC’s landmark report on global warming, and to “act now” to prevent “every fraction of a degree” of warming possible.

Prince Charles met Thunberg after her speech, vowing to use his position to “do the utmost” around environmental issues. When the Prince took to the stage himself, to launch his Sustainable Markets Initiative and Council, he delivered a rousing call for economic systems to be reformed on a global scale in order to deliver benefits to people and planet.

“What good is all the extra wealth in the world gained from business as usual if you can do nothing with it except watch it burn in catastrophic conditions?” he said. The Prince’s Initiative and Council will work to deliver 10 key actions aimed at creating a sustainable economy, as detailed here.

Responding to the speech, Business in the Community’s chief executive Amanda Mackenzie said: “The key takeaway from Davos 2020 is that, for businesses in the UK and globally, it can no longer be business as usual.

“Businesses don’t just need clear and workable plans for decarbonisation; they need to start putting them in motion as a matter of urgency. The gulf between words and actions remains huge… The challenge for companies in the 2020s is to implement the positive policies they have signed up to, and not just internally but through their entire supply chains.”

The big business announcement of the day was the launch of The SDG500 – a coalition of private and public sector organisations, including United Nations entities, non-governmental organisations and private equity firms. The coalition launched to mobilise a $500m (£380m) investment platform to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by targeting businesses operating in developing countries.

Meanwhile, the WEF itself unveiled initiatives aimed at planting one trillion trees and providing one billion people with better education, skills and jobs by 2030.

You can watch Prince Charles’ address in full below.

Day Three

Prince Charles snubbing Mike Pence and several attacks on Trump’s character and Thunberg’s approach aside, the third Day at Davos saw many key sustainability initiatives launched.

The first, from the Green Economy Coalition, was the Green Economy Tracker – a digital tool which will help nations measure and accelerate their transitions to economic systems which are more environmentally friendly and socially fair. The tool assesses green policies across five key areas: measuring and governance; reforming financial systems; greening individual sectors; tackling social inequality and valuing nature. It is being open-sourced for all national and local governments to use.

The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, jointly convened by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Tourism Organisation and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, was also debuted. The Initiative aims to unite actors across the tourism sector in a “systemic” approach to addressing plastic pollution by 2025. It welcomes NGOs, governments, local authorities trade and community associations and businesses, with hotelier Accor being one of the first corporate signatories.

For those following the summit from the US, the launch of the Corporate Electric Vehicle Alliance was the big sustainability announcement of the day. Convened by Ceres, the Alliance’s first business members include Amazon, Ikea North America, Siemens and AT&T.

Here in the UK, however, all eyes in the sustainability sphere were on farming, as the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published its recommendations on land-use change for net-zero. The Committee outlined how emissions from land-use, which accounted for 12% of the national total in 2017, can be reduced by around two-thirds by mid-century and the remaining emissions offset.

Day Four

Building on the launch of the SDG500, the UN Global Compact unveiled ‘SDG Ambition’, a global initative to support business alignment with the SDGs and challenge corporates which have lagged behind on addressing the Global Goals’ agenda.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave the speech to launch the initiative, which is being supported by SAP and Accenture. In a recent survey of chief executives across the globe by Accenture, just 21% said their business had a “critical” role to play in delivering against the SDGs.

Gutrerres’ speech did not stop at the SDG500; he went on to deliver a harrowing call to climate action from all attendees, saying: “Humankind has declared a war on nature and nature is striking back in a very violent way.” 

Announcements from individual businesses also kept coming, many to mark the UN’s International Day of Education. Olam Cocoa, for example, marked the expansion of its Cocoa Compass education programme, in a bid to teach children for farming communities across the Ivory Coast about the impacts of climate change and deforestation – and how they can address these issues.

As the day drew to a close, many were keen to summarise the events of the Forum.

Edelman chief executive Richard Edelman said: “We must understand the magnitude of the need for businesses to lead…. People are expecting us to help them be competitive”.

He emphasised the need for a framing of competitiveness that goes beyond short-term profits and prioritises environmental sustainability, positive social impacts and employee benefits such as upskilling and better pay.

Other speakers, however, did not share this view, and delegates were ultimately unable to agree on any new measures to improve carbon pricing.

“We got the feeling the WEF was closed in a bubble of positivity away from reality,” climate activist Loukina Tille said.

The last word was had by WEF president Borge Brende, who said the summit had been “truly remarkable” due to extensive collaboration on a spectrum of global issues by public and private bodies.

“We laid the basis for a decade of delivery,” Brende said. “The National Business Council, incorporating 140 of the world’s largest companies, agreed to support efforts to develop a core set of common metrics and disclosures that could be used to measure private sector progress against key environmental, social and governance goals.”

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