Thoughts on Davos 2014

By Yvo de Boer, Special Global Advisor, Climate Change & Sustainability

There are some who have asked whether the World Economic Forum (WEF) serves a useful purpose. In my experience the answer to that is yes. First of all, it is a great place to meet people who are otherwise almost impossible to get hold of. How often do you bump into world leaders and chief executive officers (CEOs) around a coffee table?

Secondly, every session I have been to has given me at least one inspirational nugget. Although a word to the wise, as with real mining, these nuggets are well-hidden among mountains of waste. But finding them is absolutely worth the effort.

Third, and most importantly, the WEF in fact sometimes does things which — as a platform — it was perhaps never intended to do. It can create something with a lasting impact. One of the best examples of this was the role the WEF played in the creation of the Consumer Goods Forum. The group of companies in the Consumer Goods Forum has agreed to do something by 2015 that it would probably take governments decades to negotiate. Namely, to source commodities like palm oil, soya, beef, paper and board in a sustainable fashion.

With this year’s WEF focusing in part on the climate agenda, I wondered what it could usefully do beyond confirming the obvious: climate change is serious issue that we caused and only we can fix. I came up with three ideas, which are more complex than the seemingly simple sentences below; however, with the calibre of delegates currently in Davos, they are not beyond the realm of achievability.

First, all countries could price energy according to its carbon content and use the revenue generated to lower employment taxes.

Second, countries could identify a few high carbon content products such as steel, reflect the environmental cost of that content in the consumer price and use the revenue to help poor countries green their growth.

Third, countries could oblige all pension funds to invest 20 percent of their capital in energy efficiency and another 20 percent in renewable (I ‘borrowed’ the percentages from the European Union). There is enough non-anecdotal evidence to show this can be quite profitable and pension funds do have a social purpose.

The International Energy Agency could manage the first and the World Trade Organization the second. The P8, which is made up of senior leaders from some of the world’s largest public pension funds could manage the third. All three can report back at the next WEF and collect their new assignments.

Big challenges need big ideas.

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