Climate Action

5 things we learned about climate change at Davos 2020

Ice breaks away from a frozen coastline near the Norwegian Arctic town of Longyearbyen April 23, 2007. A local resident said that global warming may be to blame for the early spring thaw.   REUTERS/Francois Lenoir   (NORWAY) - GM1DVCKMZDAA

Fragile Arctic: When the ice goes for good, we're doomed Image: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir (NORWAY) - GM1DVCKMZDAA

Robin Pomeroy
Podcast Editor, World Economic Forum
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How to Save the Planet

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Climate change was a key theme at Davos 2020
  • Donald Trump did not mention it, but rejected ‘prophets of doom’
  • Asset managers already starting to shun fossil fuels

Going by the media coverage, Davos 2020 was the Trump and Greta show.

The Swedish teenager Thunberg, for a second year running, told business and governments to make drastic and urgent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the climate disaster that scientists say we are rapidly heading towards. The US president did not mention climate change and said we should ignore the "perennial prophets of doom" and "embrace the possibilities of tomorrow".

So what did we learn about climate change this week in Davos? Is it apocalypse soon, or a bright green future?

Earth will survive; we might not

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: "We will be destroyed by climate change, not the planet. This will be for us a clear indication that we absolutely need to change course."


"Humankind has declared a war on nature and nature is striking back in a very violent way," he said.

Prince Charles had a similarly stark take:

"Global warming, climate change and the devastating loss of biodiversity are the greatest threats humanity has ever faced," he said.

His work as an environmentalist over the years had been done with "our children and grandchildren in mind, because I did not want to be accused by them of doing nothing except prevaricate and deny the problem."

Britain's Prince Charles delivers a special address during the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse - RC22LE9XW0VE
Prince Charles delivers his speech Image: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Tipping points

One reason action to tackle climate change is so urgent, according to the scientists, is that we are close to several 'tipping points' which could accelerate global warming even more.

One of these is the melting of the ice caps. Professor Gail Whiteman explained the 'albedo effect' and why an ice-free Arctic would spell disaster for the whole world.


Business as usual?

Do industry leaders accept the risk? Many seem to.

"Fossil fuels, the fuel of the 20th century - its days are numbered," said Andrew Liveris, former CEO of Dow Chemical who is now on the board of Saudi Aramco.

And that might partly be driven by investors moving their assets out of fossil fuels in the coming years. A process that has already started and may gain momentum with the creation of company accounting standards for climate-related risks - something Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said would be ready by the end of the year.


"If you look at what’s happening in finance, you have the core of the financial system, all the investors, wanting the information about what? About the transition (away from fossil fuels)," Carney said.

"At the core of this system now these questions are being asked, and are you on the right side or the wrong side of that transition? And if you are on the wrong side, what are you going to do about it?"


Scott Minerd, Global Chief Investment Officer of Guggenheim, said it was not enough to nudge business into action - they had to be financial reasons to divest from fossil fuels.

"While businesses may greenwash and talk about all the wonderful things they're doing there has to be a stronger sense of setting up incentives to get this addressed," said Minerd. His suggestion? "Put a price on carbon."

Trees are good

One climate initiative launched at Davos received unanimous applause - even from Donald Trump.

The project aims to grow, restore and conserve 1 trillion trees around the world to sequester carbon from the air and to protect biodiversity.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, who is providing financial support for, thanked Trump for joining the initiative and said: "Trees are a bi-partisan issue - everyone's pro-trees."

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he leaves after a news conference at the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, January 22, 2020.
Farewell from Davos. Image: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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