Five Observations for The World Economic Forum

The world is on fire. Can Davos help put out the flames?

January 20, 2020

10:21 am

Achieving the UN’s SDGs by 2030 (or for that matter by 2130, if the world even still exists at that point), will cost trillions of dollars every year.

Observation 1: It won’t be easy.

In the year 2017 alone, the world spent $5.2 trillion subsidizing fossil fuels.

Observation 2: Maybe our GPS is broken, but it seems like we’re heading the wrong direction on a one-way street.

These astute observations are delivered on the occasion of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 50th annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. The convening is the first landmark anniversary among a year’s worth of auspicious commemorations, including the 75th anniversaries of the UN, the end of World War II, and Hiroshima/Nagasaki; the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in the United States; and the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

All of the preceding historical moments have shaped the way we use diplomacy to achieve a more justice-oriented society, and contributed to the development of the SDGs. And the pressure will be on in Davos like no time before it.

Much of that is thanks to climate-centric youth, from Greta Thunberg to Autumn Peltier to Naomi Wadler to Melati Wijsen to Salvador Gómez-Colón (many of these names will be familiar to regular Earth’s Call readers). These youthful voices — who have organized global climate strikes, chastised world leaders, and challenged the status quo, inching the planet toward more reasonable policies and existentially necessary actions — will for the first time ever this year be part of a group of teen-age change-makers taking part in the official WEF program. 

Observation 3: Their relentless pursuit of a healthier planet has proven to be a source of light in an otherwise New Dark Ages. But for every step forward, there is a step — or possibly two — backward.

Thunberg herself is aware of the struggle. At COP25 in Madrid last month, she addressed attendees by noting that the school strikes she made globally recognized have “achieved nothing,” because as the Guardian reported, fossil-fuel emissions have continued to rise.

Now, in an op-ed she co-wrote for The Guardian last week called “At Davos we will tell world leaders to abandon the fossil fuel economy,” Thunberg noted that, “since the 2015 Paris agreement, 33 major global banks have collectively poured $1.9 trillion into fossil fuels.”

Observation 4: Is it possible that people who are 24 and older are just not paying quite enough attention to this climate crisis?

It is a struggle for all concerned with the climate emergency. But at least we have a chance with youthful leaders who are inspiring and informed and in sync — like Thunberg, Peltier, Wadler, Wijsen, Gómez-Colón, and so many others. That latter group also includes Future Coalition, a consortium of youth-led organizations active in climate-centric protests. It will require staying vigilant and staying informed. And one way to stay informed is to tune in to various livestreams to watch these youthful leaders, and see what messages they are delivering.

There are at least two livestreams that will be broadcasting panels and meetings featuring these youth and other leaders.

  • The official World Economic Forum meetings will be livestreamed here, and will include all of the above mentioned youth and others, plus famed marine biologist Sylvia Earle, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, and Salesforce Chairman Marc Benioff.
  • The SDG MEdia Zone will be livestreamed here, and will include UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Global Compact CEO Lise Kingo, and former UN General Assembly President Peter Thomson.

Thunberg and friends demanded in their Guardian op-ed that, “at this year’s forum, participants from all companies, banks, institutions and governments immediately halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction, immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies, and immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels.”

Observation 5: It might seem far-fetched, but we need to make jaw-dropping, eye-popping changes to business as usual if we want to have a chance at a 100th anniversary of Davos.

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