Davos 2023: Awash with ocean action and inspiration

Ocean action was a key topic at Davos 23.

Ocean action was a key topic at Davos 23. Image: World Economic Forum/ Greg Beadl

Gemma Parkes
Communications Lead, Ocean Action Agenda, World Economic Forum
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Ocean action was a major talking point at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023 held in Davos, Switzerland.
  • From art installations to music, dynamic dialogues to poetry on panels, ocean action made waves across the Meeting.
  • Here is a round-up of the tide of ocean action and inspiration at Davos 23.

The ocean was tangibly present throughout the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023. This reflects the growing awareness that prioritising ocean health has a direct positive impact on planetary health and the entire global sustainable development agenda – from inclusive and sustainable growth, food security and dignified livelihoods to tackling the climate crisis, intergenerational justice and boosting the resilience of coastal communities.

The opening concert at Davos 23, I Sea You, available, like many sessions throughout the week, as a live stream to global audiences online, set the scene beautifully. Musicians from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Israel shared a very personal call to action for world leaders and policymakers to protect and preserve the coral reefs of the Northern Red Sea. They expressed deep motivation and rousing inspiration through their wonderful music.

In a world-first, the Global Collaboration Village at Davos hosted the first-ever multilateral meeting in the metaverse, including remote participation. This drove action on ocean health and seafood waste by gathering experts and leaders from finance, food and retail sectors to discuss and plan around a virtual underwater conference table. This purpose-driven harnessing of emerging technology for the global public good is designed to solve global challenges and problems in an open and inclusive way.

Creating a sustainable ocean economy

This Davos 2023 session summarised the great progress for ocean action achieved throughout 2022, known as a 'super year' for ocean health.
This Davos 2023 session summarised the great progress for ocean action achieved throughout 2022, known as a 'super year' for ocean health. Image: World Economic Forum/Faruk Pinjo

The main Davos agenda, meanwhile, was sprinkled with inspiring ocean content. A dedicated session on Ocean 20: Building a Sustainable Blue Economy featured a dynamic and diverse conversation that laid out priorities for advancing ocean health and prosperity under India's G20 presidency. This builds on the momentum of Ocean 20, or O20 – an ambitious new agenda driving action for building a sustainable and inclusive ocean economy. This was launched in November 2022 by the Indonesian Government, with support from the World Economic Forum, on the eve of the G20 Leaders' Summit hosted by Indonesia in Bali.

In this session, Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Ocean and Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum's community of ocean leaders, Friends of Ocean Action, summarised the great progress for ocean action achieved throughout 2022, known as a 'super year' for ocean health. He highlighted that these great strides forward show that "multilateralism is alive and well," a sentiment strongly echoed by World Economic Forum President Børge Brende in his closing address at the end of the Meeting.

Thomson also flagged that a sustainable blue economy represents no less than “the future of human security” and is critical for intergenerational justice – and he urged leaders to seize the critical opportunities for Ocean Action in 2023.

One key step forward during 2022 was the landmark achievement of the global framework for nature, at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 in Montreal, Canada – with a commitment from all countries to protect 30% of the land and ocean by 2030. The Davos session 30x30 Ambition: Next Steps after Montreal highlighted the key imperatives and financing needs and how they could be met to reach this bold yet essential target.

A focus on blue carbon

Blue carbon, or the carbon stored in coastal and marine ecosystems, such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses, featured strongly at Davos. This builds on growing awareness of its enormous potential to combat climate change, protect biodiversity, and support the livelihoods and well-being of local communities.

A new partnership was announced between the World Economic Forum and the Indonesian government, to support Indonesia’s ambitions to scale its investments in blue carbon projects. A multistakeholder dialogue on the Annual Meeting agenda, Where the Land Meets the Sea, gave air to a range of views on responsible management of coastal wetland ecosystems for blue carbon and the critical role of business. The session included a surprise element from Nadir Godrej, Managing Director of Godrej Industries, who captured everyone’s attention with his poetic take on the brief to deliver a short speech – by articulating in verse the importance of intergenerational environmental responsibility:

“My uncle known as Sohrabji

Way back could clearly see

The environment was under stress.

Neglect he knew would be a mess –

In saving tigers he played a role,

The environment was a major goal.

Our creek-side land was reserved,

The mangroves there well preserved.

And all of you should understand

This was two thirds of our land.

And from my office I gaze out there,

A Mumbai view that’s very rare…

And now it is our aspiration

To pursue research and conservation

And spreading awareness all around –

This strategy is very sound.”

Godrej Industries is an industry leader in mangrove conservation and the poem shared in the session represents actions in words, or words in action – and proof that where there is a will, there is a way. Don’t miss Godrej’s full poem and the rest of the insightful talk and discussion in the blue carbon session recording.

Ocean innovation and inspiration

Ocean innovation was another vibrant leitmotiv across the Davos agenda this year, with calls for new ideas and solutions. UpLink, the World Economic Forum’s open, digital crowd-engagement platform, was created three years ago to foster mass participation and solve our greatest challenges.

In the Earth Data Revolution session, we were delighted to announce the winners of our UpLink Ocean Data Challenge – with exciting solutions ranging from an ‘internet of underwater things’ to an ocean data network designed to generate community-level data and advance ocean data analytics for decisions and action. Two UpLink Ocean innovators, Archireef and Sea6 Energy, showcased their work in sessions as part of the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence programme using Earthtime data stories, a new collaboration between the Forum and Carnegie Mellon University.

Art for ocean action

Those wandering around the main Congress Centre in Davos were able to view a compelling immersive art installation by Sarah Cameron Sunde, highlighting sea level rise. Projections of her unique performance art on coastlines around the world show her – often alongside the local people with whom she collaborated to prepare the work – being enveloped by the ocean through a tide cycle, taking up to 13 hours. You, too, can immerse yourself online in Sarah’s work at 36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea.

Art for ocean action: Artist Sarah Cameron Sunde's 36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea is a series of nine site-specific performances and video art works where the artist immerses herself in water, feeling the tide rise and fall
Art for ocean action: Artist Sarah Cameron Sunde's 36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea is a series of nine site-specific performances and video art works where the artist immerses herself in water, feeling the tide rise and fall Image: Sarah Cameron Sunde

The Congress Centre also featured showstopping art by Refik Anadol, Artificial Realities: Coral. This data sculpture combined artificial intelligence and visual arts to display colourful animated art composed of some 1 billion images of coral, created to spotlight how global warming is impacting coral reefs.

Ahead of Davos 23, the World Economic Forum’s Ocean Action Agenda and Friends of Ocean Action launched a call for people across the world to step up in their respective sectors and spheres of influence to take ambitious Ocean Action in 2023 – outlining key opportunities in the months to come. The Forum’s Annual Meeting week came to an energising close with the delivery in Davos by Switzerland of its acceptance of the World Trade Organization deal to end harmful fisheries subsidies – the first country to do so, hopefully setting off a cascade of others following suit.

We look forward to continuing engagement with those across the global community to join us in working for a healthy, prosperous, just and thriving ocean – and by extension, people and planet.

Learn more about the World Economic Forum’s Ocean Action Agenda and follow Friends of Ocean Action on Twitter and LinkedIn

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