In January 2020, the World Economic Forum will call on companies to raise their ambitions for climate action at the Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters under the theme “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World.” The meeting’s 50th edition will bring together over 3,000 participants from around the world. For the fourth year, it will also be climate neutral.

So what exactly does being climate neutral mean?

For one thing, we do everything we can to reduce emissions in the first place. This involves looking at everything: from our use of materials and resources (this year, we are actually changing the configuration of the Congress Centre layout to use less carpet), to the food we serve (more local, seasonal and plant-based than ever before) and transportation (our fleet of cars and buses is 90% hybrid or electric this year).

We will keep on looking for ways to reduce our environmental footprint. For everything that we cannot eliminate, we offset by investing in schemes that reduce emissions levels in the atmosphere.

We have been calculating and offsetting all emissions to the Annual Meeting – including staff and participant air travel – by funding certified offsetting projects around the world since 2017. Beyond carbon emission reduction, these initiatives also create jobs and improved living conditions. For example, one of the projects selected to offset the 2018 meeting was Rwandan Boreholes, which has already provided 50 million litres of water to over 68,000 people and saved 85,000 tonnes of wood that would have been used to boil water for purification.

To offset the 2020 Annual Meeting, the Forum has decided to continue supporting two key projects: the Jacundá project in the Amazonian “Arc of Deforestation” known for its disappearing tropical forest, which protects an area of 95,000 hectares of native forest and sustainably produced rubber, açai and brazil nuts, and the Biogas for Greener Farms, which uses methane generated by the processing of manure in biogas digesters as energy and the residue as fertiliser for local farms in Switzerland.

Here are some other examples of offsetting projects supported by the Forum in collaboration with South Pole, a leading provider of global climate solutions.

Waste Composters

Although composting human waste, manure, or landfill is hardly new, reducing its carbon emissions is a more recent concern. Biogas digesters recycle the output of composting to have a twofold benefit: reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enabling the production of green energy. Benefits include maintaining soil fertility and supporting food safety.

Composting New Dehli ensures that solid waste from fruit and vegetable markets in Delhi, India, doesn’t end up in landfills and transforms 73,000 tonnes of it into about 200 tonnes of compost every year. In Cambodia, the National Biodigester programme not only treats waste then used as fertilizer by over 18,000 farms but also replaces biomass stoves, saving 150,000 tonnes of wood since 2006.

Cook Stoves

Conventional stoves are inefficient and produce indoor smoke – the equivalent of burning 400 cigarettes per hour. Cook stoves, which have fewer fumes and require less energy and wood, provide health, energy and environmental benefits.

In India, where it’s estimated that toxic fumes from conventional cookstoves cause 500,000 premature deaths per year, The Breathing Space Cook Stove has already provided efficient cookstoves to over 200,000 families. In Mali, Katene Clean Cookstoves created 400 jobs in a local stove manufacturing factory and planted 2,400m2 of trees to counter desertification in a country that is more than half covered by the Sahara.

Communities gathering firewood in China’s Mamize Nature Reserve in Sichuan province threaten the surrounding biodiversity and the habitat of giant pandas, an issue the WWF Mamize Firewood-Saving Cook Stove Project has been working to address.

Small interventions on cooking stoves, such as improved ignition rates, can also benefit users financially - Highveld Air Quality - NFS project in South Africa, for example, saves users about $30 a year.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combating climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated.

Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago. Plus, improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy (the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity) are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials Platform is working on initiatives including, Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global Battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

Hydro

Sustainable hydro plants are the most efficient way to generate electricity, but their cost is often a barrier to their construction. In Brazil, Incomex Hydro has set up three hydro plants, which produce clean energy and reduce over 83,000 tonnes of CO2 per year – that’s the equivalent of electricity use for 14,000 houses.

On a bigger scale, China’s Huóshui Grouped Small Hydropower has been supplying energy for over half a million rural Chinese homes every year and has supported the community with sustainable agricultural workshops for over 170 people, social initiative funding, and an educational programme about environment protection in which about 200 students have taken part.

Wind Power

Another renewable source of energy that can satisfy the world’s increasing demand is wind power. In Viet Nam, where economic growth and power demands are outpacing supplies, Bac Lieu Wind Farm set up the first large-scale coastal wind power project of the country.

In India, Mitcon wind plants have been supplying the national grid, creating employment, and supporting women entrepreneurs. Argentina’s economic difficulties from the early 2000s generated an energy crisis and an inability to meet power demands in sustainable ways. Today, Rawson windfarm works in Patagonia, one of the windiest regions of the world.

Reducing emissions remains the first priority of the Forum’s sustainability efforts for the Annual Meeting 2020, which form part of the boarder institutional sustainability strategy. Offsetting is used to neutralize the emissions that could not be avoided, in a way that fosters sustainable development in Switzerland and abroad.