We are at a pivotal moment in history. Around the world, people are finding it increasingly difficult to buy into the narrative of shared, continuous social and economic progress that has prevailed for decades.
The promise of individual and collective emancipation implicit in the notion of progress appears to be broken. It turns out that the greatly underestimated downside of technological progress is a fractured world.
A world fractured between the ultra-rich and the middle and lower classes, as the benefits of economic growth accrue essentially to the top 1%; between globalization’s winners and losers, as the juggernaut of trade liberalization sparks isolationist movements in the developed world among societies that fear the prospect of decline.
A world fractured between skilled workers and others, as technological progress and disruption create gaps in the labour market and call the established order into question; and between economic growth and environmental imbalances.
These contrasts reverberate all the more in the echo chamber of round-the-clock information platforms such as social media, where everyone constantly documents, shares, and comments on these tensions, feeding growing dissatisfaction and indignation.
'We are currently at the end of a cycle'
We need to pay attention to this indignation and understand it as a desire for a new model. We must realize that if we respond to it with just mollifying words instead of concrete actions, it will find solutions in populism.
I firmly believe that we are currently at the end of a cycle. Momentum is building for the creation of a shared future, one that is more egalitarian, inclusive, and respectful of the environment. A future that ultimately offers greater possibilities for personal development and control over our individual lives. This parallel desire for renewal and harmonious progress reconciles the competing interests of the environment, the community and the individual.
The energy sector's transition
This shift in attitudes is especially noticeable in the field of energy. Citizens and consumers are demanding that climate change and environmental issues be taken seriously. Huge investments have been made in renewable energies, driving technological progress, because there is now a strong political will for tackling these challenges.
But can the search for a new system and ways to mend a fractured world be launched at a forum such as Davos, often viewed as a private club for the powerful?
I am convinced it can. A summit such as Davos “powers up” its participants. In addition to encouraging us to take collective responsibility for current imbalances, the goal of Davos is to push us to take on the work of finding concrete ways to heal our fractured world — to transition from awareness to a declaration of intent and then to action.
Here again, the energy sector can serve as a model. The major energy operators are taking responsibility and working toward a desirable future, determined to be a part of the solution and not the problem.
The countries that have committed, under the Paris Climate Agreement, to limit the rise of global temperature to well below 2℃ serve as illustrations and, in this regard, we must underscore the special role of France, which facilitated the signing of the agreement and serves as its guardian.
The sovereign wealth funds of hydrocarbon-rich nations, such as Norway, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, whose treasuries depend on the use of these resources, should also be mentioned. At the One Planet Summit in France on 12 December 2017, these nations pledged to provide major financing for the energy transition.
Non-governmental stakeholders and businesses are also taking action: the C40 megacities network has developed an ambitious programme aimed at limiting global temperature rise to below 1.5℃. The city of Washington DC is a member of this coalition and has announced its intention to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% between now and 2050. In pursuit of this goal, it is implementing a programme to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, increasing investment in renewable energies and creating more sustainable forms of transport.
With respect to business, major financial firms such as JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Société Générale, Crédit Agricole and BNP Paribas have pledged to limit or eliminate their support for coal-production projects.
Thousands of businesses, within various coalitions, have pledged to reduce their carbon footprint, meet 100% of their energy needs through renewable energies or take climate-friendly measures, such as internal carbon pricing, choosing alternative fuels, and energy efficiency.
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All of these stakeholders have made public commitments to concrete, measurable actions that will reduce the fracture between economic growth and climate equilibrium. This goal is shared by my company ENGIE. It drives our decisions to invest in technologies that provide access to clean, unlimited energy sources; our contributions to the development of sustainable cities that are great places to live; and our commitment to meet everyone’s basic needs to stay warm, be fed and have access to transport. In this way, we contribute to keeping an environmental, social and geopolitical balance in the world.
At Davos, we can expect participants to explain how they will work together concretely to heal the fractures of our modern world, contribute to harmonious progress and build a shared, peaceful future.
This, in any case, is the direction I intend to promote as co-chair of Davos this year.