World Economic Forum: 7 environmental take-aways from this year’s Davos conference

This week, some 2,000 business leaders and policymakers have been in Davos for the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting. Here, we round up the key environmental announcements from the bustling Forum.

World Economic Forum: 7 environmental take-aways from this year’s Davos conference

The WEF’s namesake conference is widely known as an opportunity for the world’s richest and most influential people to discuss pressing political, environmental and social challenges. It has not been held in person since 2020, due to Covid-19, but this week, it was back in full force. This year’s chosen theme was “working together, restoring trust”.

Pre-pandemic, climate change had gradually been rising up the Davos agenda. At the 2020 event, all business leaders and world leaders were urged by organisers to set net-zero emissions targets for 2050 at the latest.

The Covid-19 vaccination programme and the response to the economic fallout of lockdown restrictions across the world remained high on the agenda this year. Leaders were also keen to condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine and to discuss the energy price crisis and global food supply disruptions.

But the environment didn’t drop off of the agenda – 90 of the Forum’s 270 panels did include time for discussions around the climate crisis. Net-zero targets from regions and nations, as of the end of 2021, covered 90% of global GDP.

So, here we round up some of Davos’s major environmental announcements

  1. Climate activists push for less talk, more action to change systems

Before we get into the official announcements from nations and businesses, it bears noting that climate activists staged a significant demonstration outside of the WEF event this week. Attendees held banners stating that previous editions of the talk have failed to mobilise any significant or targeted action to reduce global emissions, improve climate adaptation or implement a proper loss and damage framework for the most affected groups.

Vanessa Nakate told those protesting that “many people here are disconnected from the reality [of the climate crisis]”. She added: “They are in a bubble, they are in their own world”.

Youth climate activists have been calling on Davos attendees to turn talk into action more rapidly for some time. At the last face-to-face meeting, in early 2020, Greta Thunberg and other Fridays for Future Participants said their demands for renewed international efforts to reduce fossil fuel supply and demand were “completely ignored”.

At this year’s conference itself, climate activists invited to speak included Kenyan Elizabeth Watuthi (pictured), who urged attendees to “understand the intersections” of the climate crisis and related global challenges, including food security. Some 3.1 million people in Kenya are currently in need of food assistance, according to ReliefWeb, following three consecutive years of dry rainfall seasons.

2. Indian CEOs form net-zero alliance

On Monday (23 May), the WEF launched the India chapter of the Alliance of CEO Climate Action Leaders. The Alliance, as a whole, was first founded in 2014, with the ambition of supporting businesses of all sectors to align their actions with the Paris Agreement. In line with updated science, its ambition is now alignment with the Agreement’s 1.5C pathway and the transition to a net-zero world.

Before the addition of the India chapter, there were some 92 companies signed up to the Alliance. The overall Alliance is co-chaired by Ingka Group boss Jesper Brodin, Royal DSM boss Feike Sijbesma and Swiss Re boss Christian Mumenthaler. India’s addition should see at least a dozen more companies joining in the coming months. The India chapter is being chaired by ReNew Power’s chief executive Sumant Sinha.

The WEF said in a statement that the India chapter will “bring together the government, businesses and other key stakeholders” to deliver against India’s 2070 net-zero target, set last autumn.

With the India chapter, the alliance now represents businesses collectively generating more emissions annually than the EU.

3. TNFD takes a step forward

Tuesday (24 May) saw the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) announcing three expansion activities, to help further its quest to create a framework for companies to measure and reduce their risks relating to nature.

The Taskforce confirmed the formation of “consultation groups” of various national and regional level organisations to help increase engagement with the framework. Nations involved in these groups include Australia, India, the Netherlands and the UK.

It also announced a partnership Additionally, the TNFD is partnering with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to engage with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs). Over the next 12 months, these organisations will inform the framework development of potential impacts and considerations that nature will have on these voices and communities.

The TNFD launched its first beta framework back in March and expects a finalised version to be launched in the second half of 2023.

4. Transitioning Industrial Clusters towards Net-Zero initiative grows

Also on Tuesday, industrial hubs in Belgium, the Netherlands, Texas and Ohio joined the WEF’s Transitioning Industrial Clusters towards Net Zero initiative. The aim of the initiative is to support industrial clusters in designing and delivering a transition pathway to net-zero, fostering cross-industry collaboration across the world. Industrial activity is notably responsible for 30% of global annual emissions.

The new joiners doubled the number of clusters taking part in the initiative from four to eight. They are the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, Brightlands Circular Space, the H2Houston Hub and the Ohio Clean Hydrogen Hub Alliance.

The WEF has stated that more than a dozen additional clusters are in the process of joining the initiative. Its overarching ambition is to get at least 100 clusters signed up.

5. First Movers Coalition surpasses 50 participating companies

The big news from the private sector on Wednesday (25 May) was a major update on the First Movers Coalition – an initiative first launched during COP26 with the aim of scaling the development of low-carbon technologies for hard-to-abate sectors.

The UK, Denmark, India, Italy, Japan, Norway, Singapore and Sweden signed on as government partners to the Coalition, which is spearheaded by the US federal government as well as the WEF.

In the private sector, the Coalition opened to companies in the aluminium value chain and companies offering, or interested in investing in, carbon dioxide removal technologies. New joiners include Ball Corporation, BHP, Ecolab, Enel, EY, FedEx, Ford Motor Company, HeidelbergCement, National Grid, PwC, Schneider Electric, Swiss Re and Vestas. Companies participating in the Coalition now represent more than $8.5trn of market capitalisation.

6. Businesses pledge to co-create shared, low-carbon urban mobility networks

On Thursday (26 May), more than 30 companies pledged to collaborate with each other and with national, regional and local policymakers to create “shared, connected and decarbonized mobility ecosystems”.

The Urban Mobility Scorecards initiative will assess how cities across the world are performing in terms of the environmental sustainability and resilience of their mobility networks. These assessments will be completed this year and will serve as baselines, against which cities can collaborate with key stakeholder groups to design and deliver targeted changes.

Businesses supporting the initiative include Uber, Hyundai, Volta Trucks and Visa.

7. Spotlight shone on water resources

Also on Thursday, a new Global Commission on the Economics of Water was formally launched. Much like the natural capital movement, which has sought to incorporate the value of nature into policymaking and financial decision-making, the Commission will seek to redefine how water is valued and ensure that this value is taken into account when major decisions are taken in the private and public sectors.

The WEF and the Dutch Government have selected World Trade Organisation director-general by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to co-lead the Commission alongside the UCL Institutte for Innovation and Public Purpose Mariana Mazzucato; Singapore’s Senior Minister  Tharman Shanmugaratnam and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research’s director Johan Rockström.

Separately, the WEF announced a new $15m fund that will invest in those developing innovative solutions in the field of freshwater resource management. The fund will be managed by the WEF’s open innovation platform, uplink, with support from IT giant HCL Technologies, and will be spent across a five-year period.

The UN estimates that the global demand for water will exceed sustainable supply by 40% by 2030. Contributing megatrends include population growth, the global temperature increase, changing weather patterns and the over-exploitation of natural resources by the private sector.

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