Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 30 September 2020

Davos can help reconcile business and sustainability

World leaders must understand that the gross domestic product of their nations is inextricably linked to nature

The World Economic Forum is holding its 50th annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. REUTERS
The World Economic Forum is holding its 50th annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. REUTERS

This week, business leaders, politicians and leading academics will meet with environmental activists to discuss business and sustainability at the World Economic Forum’s 50th annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

What started off as an elite gathering of Western entrepreneurs and industrialists to discuss business deals in the cosy comfort of Swiss chalets has now become a much broader platform for the global community to draw attention to issues like poverty and the environment, and to lobby their leaders for real change.

This year’s meeting brings together more than 3000 leaders, with a focus on sustainability. Environmentalists such as teenage activist Greta Thunberg, and economic justice campaigners like Occupy Wall Street co-founder Micah White will be sharing Davos’s snowy streets with US President Donald Trump - who did not attend last year’s summit - and Christine Lagarde, the former International Monetary Fund chief and now President of the European Central Bank.

Mr White has likened attending Davos to “reputational suicide”, even though he concedes that environmentalists and businesspeople need to work together to effect change. The 2020 manifestation of Davos may, in fact, be the right breeding ground for such co-operation. The global business community is gradually beginning to understand that there has been a serious problem in our shared perspective on climate change – namely, the notion that environmental and business interests are intrinsically at odds with one another. In reality, this could not be further from the truth.

A new report published by WEF has revealed that more than half of the global economy – some $44 trillion – is at risk because of climate change. Industries such as construction, agriculture and the food and beverages sector all depend on the sustainability of natural resources to remain profitable.

In short, global warming is bad for the planet, but it is also bad for business. World leaders must understand that the gross domestic product of their nations is inextricably linked to nature, and businesses must acknowledge that they have a vested interest in promoting sustainability.

Far from the clubby atmosphere it once was, Davos is now poised to be the ideal stage for conversations that concern all people, their livelihoods and their well-being. Such conversations, when had in earnest, can give rise to genuine and rapid shifts in mind-set. Climate change is no longer an abstract problem waiting to affect us in a distant future. Since last June, Australia has been ravaged by the worst bushfires in its history, killing an estimated one billion animals and destroying millions of hectares of land.

Global warming is bad for the planet, but it is also bad for business

Meanwhile, last week, parts of the Saudi Arabian desert were covered in snow. In the wider Middle East, desertification and drought are among the biggest environmental threats, with Mediterranean countries such as Lebanon, Palestine and Turkey facing soil degradation, increased droughts and floods. In the Arabian Peninsula, the business community, in partnership with the public sector, has brought forth creative solutions to these problems such as cloud seeding and desalination.

Ignoring climate change is no longer a profitable option – not for the world economy, not for private businesses and certainly not for the planet. At Davos, businesses must think beyond the extent to which their balance sheets are red or black. They must also be green.

Updated: January 20, 2020 07:56 PM

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