• Despite increasingly doom-laden projections, the global economy now realizes it must contribute towards a sustainable future.
  • Many technological and industrial solutions to our problems already exist.
  • With ambition and will, we can build a low-carbon world together.

The fireworks that welcomed the new decade have faded away. But what we should still remember are the imaginary alarm bells about the future of our planet that were rung by supranational organizations only a couple of weeks ago.

We’ve heard from the Global Carbon Project that worldwide greenhouse gas emissions reached almost 37 billion metric tons in 2019, marking yet another high - even though the rate of increase has slowed slightly.

What the United Nations Environment Programme adds seems even more alarming: unless emissions fall by almost 8% each year in the next decade, the world won’t reach the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

At the same time, the main addressee of these messages, the political arena, is split between those who continue to deny man-made climate change and those who present ambitious plans like the EU's new 'Green Deal' to make Europe the first ever climate-neutral continent. Cynics speak of a dead-end situation and might dismiss such initiatives as utopia.

Of course, one can question the political determination and societal backing to actually realize bold visions such as these. What is clear is that the global economy is increasingly aware that it can, must and will contribute to a sustainable future. According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, about two-thirds of the world’s CEOs regard sustainability as a key management topic, simply because it is increasingly a critical competitive factor. To sit back and do nothing will eventually lead to failure.

A lot of products and solutions concerned with realizing the green agenda exist today. As it was in the past, industry – in particular the chemical sector – has great ideas. One example is new high-tech plastic compounds that can make wind power plants considerably more efficient and more economical in production to bring them on a par with fossil energy sources. The first such wind turbines are already installed in China.

Industrial innovation is a key driver behind the rise in renewables
Industrial innovation is a key driver behind the rise in renewables
Image: IRENA

But cutting-edge production technology can also help pave the way towards a cleaner world and the 1.5°C goal. Take Germany, which is among the top-10 emissions-generating countries: a greenhouse gas-neutral chemical industry is technically feasible in this country, according to a recent study, since the required CO2-free processes are with us today. The main thing is to say farewell to fossil fuels and use alternative raw materials instead, such as recycled waste, plant biomass – and even CO2 itself. Making use of the climate gas and contributing to closing the carbon cycle is an increasingly attractive approach.

However, to turn concepts like the one for the German chemical industry into reality takes the right framework. Companies in industrialized countries, again like Germany, need to remain cost-competitive so as not to fall behind those regions that show less ambition to fulfill the Paris Agreement. Moreover, we need large amounts of green energy to really get to a fossil-free economy. Covestro, for example, has just concluded the world's largest-ever corporate supply agreement for electricity from offshore wind turbines. As from 2025, the company will obtain green electricity from energy supplier Ørsted, generated in a newly built wind farm in the North Sea – a move that will hopefully stimulate the accelerated expansion of renewable energy in Germany.

What matters is to be part of the solution and to take real steps, however small they might be, to help make a carbon-neutral world come true – and rebut the cynics.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.