Davos debates delivery on climate change

Business leaders gather in Davos to discuss how finance, technology and a changing economic order can speed up climate action
<p>(Image by WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM / Valeriano Di Domenico)</p>

(Image by WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM / Valeriano Di Domenico)

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, which got underway today, will give governments and companies an opportunity to decide on how to put the Paris climate agreement into effect.

The meeting comes as the threat of global warming, particularly on food security and water shortages, remains near the top of concerns among business leaders, according to a report published by the WEF last week.

Speaking at a WEF panel on Wednesday morning, UN climate chief Christina Figueres said that the Paris agreement had been the “easy part”, and that the task now is to dictate the speed of change in the world’s energy systems.

Business and political leaders have gathered at a time when oil prices have slid to 12-year lows. Weakening demand and a major glut in the supply of commodities such as oil, coal and iron ore is a reminder to governments that fossil fuels and energy-intensive natural resources are increasingly volatile elements that can wreak havoc with future budget planning.

Panel discussions in Davos on Wednesday morning debated the extent to which weak fossil fuel prices would hinder efforts to switch to renewables and electric motoring, which became increasingly competitive before the latest slump in oil prices.

Sales of electric vehicles stagnated in the US late last year while demand for gas-guzzling vehicles rose sharply as consumers reacted to a slide in the price of gasoline.

In the long-term, momentum behind low carbon alternatives to petrol engines and fossil fuel power generation in countries such as China, the EU and the US will have enough traction to withstand the impact of falling oil and coal prices, partly thanks to government incentives, including carbon trading and taxes.

Meanwhile, the opportunities presented by new technology, such as powerful batteries, energy storage, increased connectivity, and greater automation have become increasingly apparent. Attendees at the Davos meeting pondered the impacts of a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, which refers to how technology is transforming society and economies, including the way in which energy is produced and stored.

Davos meetings are much derided by green activists as an ineffective talking shop for a cosseted global elite, but other than UN climate summits, few other gatherings offer an opportunity for multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank and the UN, to engage with the world’s biggest companies and dozens of world leaders. The outcome of this year’s conversations remains to be seen.