- Climate change action is needed more than ever.
- In 2020, countries must show progress on the Paris agreement.
- The finance sector is under scrutiny to reduce investments in fossil fuels.
Extreme weather events have long been forecast as the result of global climate change, caused by emissions of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere.
What's happening now is the result of a 0.9C increase in global temperatures that has already occurred since pre-industrial times. If that rises to 2C, as it is set to do without rapid action to cut emissions, the results will be much worse. This is a climate crisis, and risks becoming a climate "apocalypse".
"Averting a Climate Apocalypse" is one of the main sessions at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting at Davos this month, where delegates will seek ways to avert a full-blown catastrophe.
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.
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We know the problem. So what are the solutions?
The main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2), a byproduct of burning fossil fuels - coal, oil and gas - which have locked vast amounts of carbon away since prehistoric times. A move away from these fuels has been dubbed the energy transition - a shift to relying on other forms of energy, including renewables like wind and solar power.
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But with ever-increasing demand for energy, can the transition happen quickly enough to avert a climate disaster? Despite record amounts of renewable energy, global CO2 emissions surged by 0.6% in 2019.
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.
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Much of the change will be driven by political decisions, as governments seek to fulfill pledges they made under the Paris Agreement. Signatory countries will have to show each other - and their citizens - what progress they have made at a climate conference in Glasgow in December, five years on from the Paris deal.
Follow the money
Writing for the World Economic Forum, veteran climate campaigner Jennifer Morgan says the worlds of business and finance are heading for another crash if they don't make big changes on the climate.
"We need $90 trillion over the next 10 years to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Yet fossil fuels still attract nearly three times more subsidies than climate solutions," writes Morgan, Executive Director at Greenpeace.
"To continue financing fossil fuel expansion is today’s equivalent of betting the bank - and the global economy - on subprime mortgage-backed securities over a decade ago; it is fuelling a crisis that, even if it generates short-term profit, will inevitably cause economic catastrophe alongside the climate emergency."
One possible cause for optimism is the appointment of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney as UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance.
Carney will be in Davos, along with heads of industry and government, academics and climate campaigners like Greta Thunberg. The teenage activist told last year's meeting she wanted world leaders to “panic” at the seriousness of the situation.
It's not just the climate
While climate change is the biggest environmental threat to humanity, there are many others. Davos 2020 will tackle major threats to biodiversity on land and in the sea, including plastics pollution, an area in which the Forum aims to play an influential role.
You can follow all the sessions from Davos here, and follow the meeting across social media using the hashtag #WEF20. Highlights about the environment will appear here. And you can submit your own ideas on how to save the planet - and six other ways to make the world a fairer place - here.
Here are three of the top sessions to look out for:
Averting a Climate Apocalypse, Tuesday 21 January 13.00 - 13.45, with Greta Thunberg
Solving the Green Growth Equation, Tuesday 21 January 16.00 - 16.45 with Mark Carney and Jennifer Morgan
Securing a Sustainable Future for the Amazon, Wednesday 22 January 14.00 - 14.40 with former US Vice President Al Gore, naturalist Jane Goodall and Colombian President Ivan Duque