The World Economic Forum (WEF) took place this week in Davos, Switzerland, the annual event bringing politicians and business leaders together.
This year, the theme was ‘Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World’, which saw discussions around free trade, human rights, technology, and the environment.
It included discussions around a number of key environmental issues, from climate change and water crises to the impact of our food systems on nature.
1) Climate change
The WEF’s own global risks perception survey showed that people see climate change-related issues – such as extreme weather events and natural disasters – as amongst the most pressing problems facing our planet.
During the Forum, climate change featured in many discussions, from Bank of England Governor Mark Carney talking about the need for businesses to be more transparent on the risks they face from climate change, to Al Gore speaking on how extreme weather events are proving more devastating and expensive than ever before.
French President Emmanuel Macron promised to shut all coal-fired power stations in France by 2021, while Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s founder and executive chairman, highlighted the need for civil society, businesses and governments to work together to create solutions for this global challenge.
It’s encouraging that climate change remains a priority for most global leaders, even if the US President is yet to be convinced, but we need to set more ambitious targets and move faster to reduce our carbon emissions if we’re to keep climate change at manageable levels.
We have seen a lot in the news around plastics since Blue Planet II showed the scale of its impact on oceans. At the WEF there were promising commitments from political leaders and the corporate sector, with the French government promising to recycle all plastics by 2025, and 11 global companies including Coca-Cola, Mars and Unilever pledging to using 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025.
We also saw plenty of innovation related to plastic-free alternatives. The Circular Materials challenge saw innovators present technology that could save 100 garbage bags of plastic waste per second being created, and the VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland has created a cellulose wrapper that looks and acts like clingfilm, but can be made out of wood.
What we eat not only affects our own health, but also the environment. Food is at the heart of many environmental issues – it’s a significant contributor to climate change and is responsible for 60% of global wildlife loss.
Yet there are promising examples of companies coming together to halt the degradation of our natural world. Marc Engel, Chief Supply Chain Officer from Unilever, announced at Davos that 61 global companies – including Ahold Delhaize, McDonald’s, Tesco, Unilever and Walmart – have now signed up to the ‘Cerrado Manifesto’, a WWF-led pledge from companies and investors to take urgent action to ensure their supply chains don’t contribute to deforestation. The Cerrado is a Brazilian savannah region just north of the Amazon and is home to five per cent of the world’s wildlife. Over half its land area has already been lost to make way for agriculture, but this pledge shows that change is possible. We hope this is the beginning of more businesses, investors and governments taking a long-term view and committing to ensure supply chains don’t damage the natural resources they rely on.
The UN has predicted a 40 per cent global shortage in water supply by 2030, and for the last six years the WEF has ranked water as one of the top global risks. With Cape Town now at risk of being the first major city to run out of water, millions of people are already starting to feel the impact of dwindling freshwater resources.
We’re continuing to highlight the importance of freshwater – for everything from economic growth and food security to culture and the value of ecosystem services – and have produced the Water Risk Filter to help businesses assess their water risk and provide guidance on how to respond.
Forward-thinking businesses are already considering their impact on our freshwater systems, and World Rowing has today pledged to ensure none of its activities have a negative impact on World Heritage sites.
5) Global leadership
With environmental issues making up eight out of the top ten global risks this year, and President Trump stating that “America hopes for a future in which everyone can prosper” in his closing speech at the WEF, it is clear that governments, businesses and civil society are waking up to the crucial importance of environmental issues, and evaluating the risks climate change and other environmental factors will have on our societies.
But we all need to see greater ambition from world leaders to truly reverse the decline of our natural world. Investing in nature is both profitable and beneficial to societies and the environment, and the time for this is now.