Something rather profound has been taking place in the global climate change agenda over the past 12 months or so.

The global scientific community is now “unequivocal” in its opinion that the climate system has warmed since the beginning of the industrial revolution (most estimate by about 0.8°C), and that rising levels of greenhouse gas pollution from human activities, such as fossil fuel use or land clearing for agriculture, are “extremely likely” (a probability of 95% or more) to be the cause of this warming. Without action, scientists suggest things will get much worse – we are on course for warming of about 3 to 4°C by the end of the century, the implications – and unknowns – of which are causing increasing concern.

As the science sharpens, the economic case for action on climate change has also crystalized.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the likely costs of even a 2°C increase will be between 0.5% and 2% of global GDP by mid-century. With the OECD forecasting an era of slow global growth for the next generation – about 3% maximum per year through to 2060 – the cost of climate change, even at the lowest estimate, becomes a significant economic concern.

There is a growing realization that any mainstream actions we take now to enhance our future growth prospects – whether in industrialized or developing economies – will be more successful if they also include action to address climate change. The corollary holds true. Investments in, say, urban or energy infrastructure systems that lower emissions or strengthen resilience to climate risk will help dampen the effects of climate change on economic growth. In this new context, strategies to promote growth and to deal with climate change are inexorably intertwined. For both industrialized and developing countries, actions on climate, development and growth go together.

The case for action

The first report of the Global Commission on Economy and Climate, released this year, sets out the case for action. It estimates that over the next 15 years around $6 trillion will be invested globally each year in new infrastructure for cities, land use and energy systems. This investment, the commission argues, will take place regardless of climate change: industrialized and developing economies will anyhow transform themselves in line with new technologies, sustained demographic change and rapid urbanization.

Yet, to ensure these investments in infrastructure also address climate change (and therefore bolster prospects of promoting future growth above 1%) would cost only about $270 billion extra a year, the commission suggests. By a rather delicious irony, this is roughly the same in dollar terms as the combined increase in wealth that the 400 richest Americans experienced last year, according to Forbes.

The politics of climate change are also changing fast. In January 2014, the World Economic Forum at Davos held an unprecedented “climate day” to advance public-private cooperation on climate change in some key thematic areas, such as forests, agriculture, finance and energy. In September 2014, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hosted the first ever Climate Summit at the UN headquarters in New York. Over 120 heads of state and 800 heads of business, NGOs and civic society took part. Progress in public-private cooperation on climate change in key action areas was assessed and further new commitments were announced. It was the largest high-level climate change meeting ever staged.

Outside, over 350,000 citizens marched through the streets of New York and in other cities around the world urging action on climate change. This was the biggest civic demonstration for action on climate ever held. Then, in November, a historic bilateral agreement on climate change was reached between the United States and China. The United States agreed to reduce its emissions by 26-28% by 2025 and China agreed to peak then reduce its emissions by 2030, while increasing its share of non-fossil fuel energy to 20%. And in December, the United Nations Climate Change conference in Lima paved the way for every country – industrialized or developing – to take action on climate. Combined, these various political and diplomatic developments have established a new context for global action on climate change.

Why 2015 is a crucial year

This is a crucial objective. The year 2015 is a very important one for the climate and development agenda. In July, the Third International Conference on Financing for Development will be held in Addis Ababa, which will set a new overseas aid and investment agenda. September will see the United Nations host discussions to agree a set of new global sustainable development goals to last until 2030. And in December, a new international climate accord is due for agreement in Paris.

The positioning of climate, development and economic growth as competing agendas during these crucial heads of state meetings in 2015 will not serve the world well. Instead, and with this year’s agenda in mind, the Annual Meeting in Davos is positioned to help political, business and non-governmental leaders discuss and cement the new context for addressing climate change, development and growth together, and as a result get set for success in 2015.

Consequently, an unprecedented thread of action-oriented discussions on how to advance a practical public-private programme of integrated cooperation on climate change, development and growth has been developed for Davos 2015, in collaboration with the United Nations, the World Bank and other prominent business and civil society actors.

We will focus on catalysing wider leadership for action in the year ahead. Topics will include how to scale up new blended finance models of investment for development and ways to communicate the combined climate and development challenge. We will also explore what needs to be done to make progress on key global action agendas that contain climate and development “win-wins”, including in forests, agriculture, energy and finance.

In line with the World Economic Forum’s mission to improve the state of the world through public-private cooperation, the Annual Meeting 2015 is geared to help our political, business and civil society leaders advance the new context for integrated action on climate change, development and growth through this most important year.

Author: Dominic Waughray is Head of Public-Private Partnerships at the World Economic Forum.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2015 report will be published on January 15.

Image: A small geothermal power plant is seen near the town of Laugarvatn in southwestern Iceland February 15, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov