Climate in the spotlight at WEF
Progress and delays on climate action, and how you can learn more
The other week, I attended the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland for the first time. While there, I participated in so many panels and meetings – over two dozen -- that I missed sending out a newsletter! So this week, I’m catching up and as always, there’s lots to share: the good, the not so good, and plenty you can do, too.
Starting at the top, WEF’s 2024 global risk report names extreme weather events, critical changes to Earth systems, and biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse as the three biggest global risks we collectively face over the next ten years. I was glad to see these risks were mentioned, and our Earth Decides network represented, at nearly every event I attended.
There were many other events, though, where climate, nature, and people were pushed to the side. Davos has a reputation for elitism and obliviousness, and I witnessed that as well. From parties flying in musicians from halfway around the world to corporates looking for anyone else but them to blame for their lack of climate action, there are still many who have yet to realize that it’s not about saving the planet: it’s about saving us.
That’s why, wherever I went and whoever I spoke with, I tried to emphasize how every decision is a climate decision for or against a better future, whether we realize it or not. That’s a message I’m convinced everyone needs to hear, again and again, every week of the year.
I was inspired by all the people I met at WEF who were there to advocate on behalf of those living in poverty, war, disease, or scarcity. As Jane Goodall said during one of her talks, “If you don’t have hope, you give up, you become apathetic, and you do nothing.” From obstetrician Dr. Jemilah Mahmood who founded the Malaysian Medical Relief Society and leads a center for planetary health, to entrepreneur Alloysius Attah who provides small shareholders in Africa with access to cutting-edge information and training that helps them grow more food, most people I met were far from apathetic. Rather, they are fighting tirelessly for the changes we need to ensure a better future for all.
I was also encouraged by just how normalized climate mitigation action is becoming among all different sectors. Over and over, I heard business leaders and economists, not just scientists and activists, calling for us to live within our planetary boundaries rather than pursuing economic growth above all else. “We think it’s time to redefine the development approach for the first half of the 21st century: rather than insist on achieving the highest rate of GDP per capita possible regardless of emissions and material footprint, the objective function of policymaking must pivot to maximizing the highest standard of living possible within planetary boundaries,” George Gray Molina, the chief economist for the UN Development Programme, wrote in a WEF blog post that week
IKEA CEO Jesper Brodin considers sustainability and nature as essential to his business model. “I start with the rationale, ‘How could it be possible to build a future business model on depletion of [natural] resources?’ It’s simply the absolute worst idea,” he said during our WEF panel. “That doesn’t mean that the transition and transformation is easy. But I do believe that all of us need to go through a massive transformation.”
Since 2016, IKEA has grown by 30.9 percent while cutting their absolute carbon emissions by 24.3 percent; and one of the most encouraging panels I co-hosted with Jesper was the launch of Action Speaks, a platform to share and scale business climate action world-wide. Other speakers included Helena Helmersson from H&M group, which is reducing its carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030, and Jim Rowan from Volvo, which will be producing 100 percent electric vehicles by 2030. Everyone in the audience was asked to share something their company is doing to make a difference on climate and nature. They had so much good news to share, the discussion could have gone on for hours!
Despite these many points of light, action is still not happening nearly fast enough to meet our Paris targets and avoid the worst impacts. The technology to beat back climate change already exists, but the pace of the roll-out needs to accelerate dramatically. As U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said, ”There’s very little to show that there’s enough transition already taking place that it won’t blow us past 1.5 degrees” and sadly, I agree. Here are the latest projections of when long-term global temperature is likely to pass our Paris targets, from my colleague Zeke Hausfather at CarbonBrief.
Similarly, most organizations are just at the very beginning of preparing to build resilience and adapt to climate risks. As Swiss Re CEO Christian Mumanthaler explained in another panel I hosted, on the financial risks of climate change, the only sectors adapting quickly enough are those like reinsurance that price insurance year-to-year. Often, however, they’re doing so by hiking their rates or refusing to offer new coverage for areas where climate change is amplifying fire and flood risk. These region already include California, Florida, and Louisiana.
I was also reminded again first-hand how efforts to discredit everything I and others are speaking for are still very much in force. At WEF, I participated in a plenary session on climate and nature with Ajay Banga, president of The World Bank , who announced that 35 percent of their global loans were already going to climate action and they were increasing that number to 45 percent by 2030. In the same panel, International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva reminded everyone that the $1.3 trillion the fossil fuel industry receives in direct public subsidies is exactly what’s needed to invest in climate and nature solutions. She said direct subsidies should be taken away, and that the world should set a price on carbon of $85 per ton by 2030 to address the more than $5 trillion in indirect subsidies the industry also receives. I couldn’t agree more, and hearing global financial leaders finally make clear, strong statements about what’s actually needed to tackle this crisis was refreshing.
The session ended with a call to action from an Indigenous tribal leader, Chief Putany Yawanawá, who had travelled for three days from her home in Brazil to speak at the summit. Motioning for everyone on stage to stand up and hold hands, she exhorted us all to work together for a livable earth.
You might be wondering why this is in the not-so-good news section. It’s because none of these positive statements made headlines. Instead, what went viral was how the session closed. At the end, the Indigenous leader, who it turned out was also the shaman for their tribe, decided to spontaneously blow on the panelists’ heads before closing the session. This led to claims that “pagan practices, idolatry, and occult beliefs have officially been exposed as the New World Religion pushed by the godless elites of the WEF” ... claims that were quickly picked up by conservative U.S. news outlets and used to ridicule and dismiss the entire event.
As a Christian, I support the free expression of religion, but I also do not believe in imposing other’s practices on others who do not share that faith without their knowledge or consent. So if I’d known about this ahead of time or been able to think fast enough on my feet, I would have politely declined to participate.
I recognize, however, it is most often Indigenous people who have had others’ practices forcibly imposed on them – from the residential schools in Canada to appropriation of sacred sites in the U.S. – without any goodwill intended, and with lasting and very harmful effects. The fact that those most outraged by how the panel ended are not similarly outraged when Indigenous peoples fighting to protect their land in Colombia are murdered or when climate change-driven drought forces families in Malawi to sell young daughters into marriage is sad and discouraging, to say the least. This experience reminded me once again of how essential it is that we apply a filter of love to all we do; how, in the words of the apostle Paul, if we do not have love, we gain nothing.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Do you want to learn more about climate change, but you’re not sure where to start? I've known about Climate Fresk, a nonpartisan international non-profit based in France for some time, but it wasn't until I met some of their facilitators at WEF that I learned their program is finally available in English, too!
Climate Fresk is dedicated to expanding access to climate education through three-hour workshops they host all over the world. It’s a fun, interactive experience that includes flash cards and other learning opportunities that leave you equipped and ready to have your own conversation on how every decision is a climate decision.
Patty Winsa is a reporter who attended a Fresk workshop in Toronto recently and wrote that, “even if you know everything about climate change, the conversations that the Fresk is meant to produce — the finding of common ground, the exchange of experiences due to climate change, the efforts that someone’s company may be making to mitigate it — that’s where a good part of the value is found.”
If you do know a lot about climate change already and you have a passion for helping others learn, you can sign up to become a Climate Fresk facilitator yourself, and lead your own workshops in your local community.
Please check them out and, as always, share this opportunity with people you know. They’re currently offering virtual workshops in English and French as well as in-person workshops in San Francisco, Montreal, Berlin, and many other locations. They offer custom workshops for businesses too - so you could request one for your place of work.
Most people these days are worried about climate change but they don’t know what to do. Inviting them to attend a workshop with you is a great way to help them move from worried to activated!
Tues., Feb. 6th at 2:45pm ET - John Ray Initiative's 25th Anniversary Celebration - webinar, registration required
Tues., Feb 13th at 7pm CT - Finding Hope Amid Climate Change with Samford University - in person at The Wright Center in Homewood, AL