What I learned from Davos 2014: A sustainability view

By Vincent Neate, Head of KPMG’s UK Climate Change & Sustainability practice

Another year, another Davos. The four days of the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos are always an interesting time for anyone with even the smallest interest in the future state of the planet, the business world and humanity in general. This year’s theme: The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business, reflects many of the issues KPMG’s Sustainability team have dealt with over the past 12 months.

One thing was clear: it was impossible to ignore the extensive social media coverage on top of the mainstream. So what messages do I think we should be talking about?

  • Sustainable Profitability – the unofficial dubbing of January 24 as ‘climate day’ is encouraging and demonstrates that this massive global issue is being taken seriously. Clearly thinking around the effects of the long term costs of chaotic environmental change outweighing short term profitability is now mainstream.
  • Leading Insight – when Al Gore states “We’re getting closer to a political tipping point” on climate change, you take note, as did the whole of the twittersphere. But it was more than that. The calibre of the panel for the Changing the Climate for Growth and Development session, was phenomenal. Take an hour out of your day to watch the session.
  • Sustainable Growth – it’s extremely pleasing to hear that more and more people agree that there is no conflict between eliminating poverty and tackling climate change, and that in fact developing sustainable growth will enable universal access to energy, infrastructure and natural capital.

My good friend and colleague Yvo de Boer, has proposed three solutions.

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 renewables.

The challenges are great and there hasn’t been a more important COP than that coming in Paris in September, since Copenhagen. Governments, business leaders, and civil society must come together to deliver progress and meaningful actions on the ground.


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