Climate change at Davos: What you need to know

The global elite gathers at the World Economic Forum for a four-day summit – and energy transition is high up the agenda

A logo of the World Economic Forum (WEF) is seen stuck on a window at the congress center in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos January 23, 2012. The upcoming WEF will be held from January 25 to 29. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS) - RTR2WQJ1

A logo of the World Economic Forum (WEF) is seen stuck on a window at the congress center in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos in 2012. The upcoming WEF will be held from January 20 to 23 (Flickr/ WEF)

By Alex Pashley

Mastering the fourth industrial revolution‘ is the umbrella theme for a series of discussions at the Swiss ski resort of Davos from Wednesday.

How leaps in technology are transforming society and economy will be a top talking point for the 40 heads of state and hundreds of business leaders slated to attend. So too the tumult of Chinese stock markets, the strength of America’s recovery and a destabilising Middle East.

But it’s climate change that will feature the most in years as delegates unpack a new global warming accord and its signal to fossil fuel producers.

A WEF survey of 750 economists last week picked a climate-induced catastrophe as the greatest threat to the world economy in 2016.

The UN’s top climate official, Christiana Figueres, who will be in Davos, said the agreement struck in Paris last year was a watershed moment in realigning markets towards clean energy sources.

“There is no sector that is not interested in the impacts of climate – no sector that has not woken up to the fact we have a transformational moment,” she told Climate Home.

“I will be speaking to every sector – oil gas, mining, insurance… you name it – and I am sure all will be asking: what can we do?”


The Fourth Industrial Revolutions focuses on how expanding digital platforms, robotics, 3D printing, nanotechnology, are changing how we interact and work

Business leaders will come to Davos eager to talk through the low-carbon transition, said a senior source at the WEF. The forum was set up in 1971 by Klaus Schwab as a management conference. Today it describes itself an international institute for public-private cooperation.

“After the success of Paris, the question on the mind is what next? For some, it will be carbon pricing. For others it might be standards, or the speed of transition, or what technological costs will be acceptable,” the source said.

“The theme of the Fourth Industrial Revolution obviously has many different components, but some are very congruous with the evolution to a low carbon economy.”

Some 300 open discussions will be held, with about 100 webcast (see below), which is billed as the premier networking event. Closed-door discussions are equally big. Last year fossil fuel chiefs chewed over how a climate deal would affect their businesses at an exclusive dinner.

Report: Oil chiefs hold Davos meeting to debate climate strategy

How to shift the trillions of dollars needed into clean energy investment to avoid dangerous levels of global warming is one key point.

Making banks and pension funds declare their exposure to risks posed by a warmer planet is another. Michael Bloomberg was appointed chair of a Financial Stability Board task force at the Paris summit.

Delivering on the Paris agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals run through discussions. Goal number 7 is to ensure access to cheap and sustainable energy for all.

Announcements may be few, nor are leaders likely to make firm commitments. But the event offers a candid space to take on the opportunities and challenges of countering climate change.

Top events to watch:

Wednesday 20th

0800 (GMT)

The Transformation of Energy. What trends and uncertainties are shaping the future of energy value chains?

Who: IHS vice-chairman Daniel Yergin, Hitachi CEO Hiroaki Nakanishi, IEA chief Faith Birol, Iberdrola CEO Ignacio Sanchez Galan.


A New Climate for Doing Business. What opportunities and responsibilities emerged from the Paris climate summit?

Who: HSBC group chief executive Stuart Gulliver, UNFCCC chief Christiana Figueres, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, Morocco prime minister Adbelilah Benkirane

Thursday 21st


What can businesses do to support the SDGs?

Who: Unilever CEO Paul Polman, International Trade Union Confederation Sharan Burrow


Africa’s New Deal on Energy. How to get to universal access to electricity by 2025

Who: Cote d’Ivoire prime minister Daniel Kablan Duncan, African Development Bank president, Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina


The New Energy Equation. Where are oil prices headed, what’s next in renewable energy innovation?

Who: Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev, Saudi Aramco chairman Khalid A. Al-Falih, Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi, Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev


Fossil Fuel Futures: Given regulatory and market changes, should energy companies and investors be planning for a post-fossil fuel future?

Who: UNFCCC Christiana Figueres, Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne, South Africa energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, Financial Times associate editor Martin Wolf


New Climate and Development Imperative: How will the foremost climate and sustainable development partnerships catalyse action in 2016?

Who: World Bank chief Jim Kim, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, Norway prime minister Erna Solberg

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