Climate change – arguably humanity’s most existential challenge – requires urgent global action.
As the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2019 shows only too clearly, environmental crises – notably a failure to tackle climate change – are among the likeliest and highest-impact risks that the world faces over the next decade. Indeed, 2018 saw record levels of costs due to extreme weather events.
The crisis was given much sharper focus in 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Its Special Report on the Impacts of Global Warming at 1.5°C, published in October 2018, says we have just 12 years to act if dangerous climate change is to be avoided.
Never has science been clearer in its concern about the risks of climate change and the stress this places on our oceans and other vital ecosystems, including tropical forests and freshwater sources. Yet our response to melting glaciers is glacial. While solutions increasingly exist, especially in the energy sector, there is as yet no movement on global action commensurate to the challenge.
Quarterly reporting cycles, shorter terms of office and the need to respond to crises cut time horizons for decision-makers from years, to weeks, to days and hours. The urgent scientific message on climate change finds it hard to cut through the news cycle and the competing agendas of our ever more complex world. The effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the economy, employment and national security, for example, capture much of the attention time of political and business leaders. Rising uncertainties about the future of jobs and growth are forcing many politicians to turn inward for quick fixes to domestic insecurities, rather than lean outward to cooperate on more complex global issues such as climate change.
This means we also require leadership on climate change from others. We cannot expect governments alone to fix the climate crisis, given the range of competing issues they have to contend with in today’s complex world. Nor should we. It is now well-recognized that it will take an unprecedented level of collaboration and innovation, involving many outside the public sector, to trigger the big, systemic transitions required in industry, technology and the design of consumer goods and services to keep warming to less than 1.5°C. The good news is that many studies, such as the New Climate Economy and the Energy Transitions Commission, note that these shifts in our economy are not only possible, but will also create jobs and secure better growth for the future.
However, to make this transition happen, a new combination of action is required. This will include, for example, building new forms of alliances within and between the private and public sectors; forging new clubs of like-minded governments, cities, states and provinces; and building new leadership platforms for policy experimentation and public-private action, each targeted to suit different industrial, national and regional agendas. There are many good examples of such significant collaboration already emerging, such as the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders. This group of CEOs, with collective company revenues of more than $1.5 trillion, have already reduced their collective emissions by 9% since 2015 and are committed to do more.
Then there is the question of speed. Given that the IPCC suggests we have just 12 years to act, can an adequate amount of different actions be mobilized in time? Again, this is where additional public-private approaches can play an important role. With the rapid technological advances of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we will also be able to harness new means of monitoring, verifying and reporting the progress (or lack thereof) of global, regional and industry actions on climate, potentially through radical new forms of distributed information transparency and real-time disclosures. This will likely have major implications in the coming years on how effective climate action is perceived to be compared to the scale of the challenge, especially among the young. Increased transparency will boost awareness and simply heighten the pressure to act.
To succeed in line with the IPCC guidance, the international community must embrace this new agenda for climate action - focused overall on keeping global warming within 1.5°C, but encouraging multiple different approaches, collaborations and initiatives to support, buttress and accelerate government ambitions to meet, or exceed, the Paris Climate Agreement.
Meeting the climate challenge in today’s world can perhaps be viewed as building a global public-private “platform” for action. This platform is intent on meeting a global goal within a given timeframe but enables and encourages a wide range of different partners to engage in different actions to get there. In fact, this is a good example of the new kind of enabling architecture that Globalization 4.0 seeks to promote: practical, public-private arrangements to help governments find agile, collaborative solutions to pressing global problems in our more complex world, which is being rapidly transformed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Looking ahead into 2019, the World Economic Forum is proud to support the United Nations Secretary General’s important Climate Summit in September, which seeks to scale exactly such innovative multi-stakeholder collaboration to help tackle the climate crisis. To this end, I have high hopes that this year’s Annual Meeting in Davos can help spur the renewed push for action on climate that we require for the months ahead. To do so, we must encourage both the Davos spirit for collaboration and the action platform approach to help scale our collective problem-solving for global issues, which Globalisation 4.0 calls for.