Davos 2012: What have we learnt?

By John Parnell

Bill Gates at the World Economic Forum

Bill Gates called for more investment in hi-tech agriculture at Davos (Source: WEF)

The World Economic Forum is meeting in Davos, Switzerland, this week, RTCC looks at the key climate change messages to take away from the summit. 

Bill Gates is loaded, but he’s not rich enough to do it all

Bill Gates had two messages at Davos. He announced a $750 million donation to a global fund to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

He also called for more investment in high-tech agriculture to stave of an impending food security crisis accelerated and exacerbated by climate change.

The Stern Review estimated the cost of mitigating for climate change at 2% of global GDP, $1.25 trillion in real money. Even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can’t spring for that kind of cash.

Without business, the UN climate change process will fail

Bill Gates’ financial shortcomings brings us nicely to the message from UN climate change chief Christiana Figueres.

She told the WEF that the process started in Durban, for a global deal on reducing carbon emissions, was dead without the input of the private sector.

To underline how business can do its part, the UNFCCC launched a database of 100 case studies showing how firms, including Coca-Cola and Intel, are reinforcing their business for a changing climate.

Figueres told leaders gathered in Davos that UN climate talks would collapse without the involvement of business (Source: WEF)

…but without Governments, business won’t be interested

Figueres is spot on, but business will only step in under certain conditions. Regulatory and financial support are high on that list.

UK Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell told leaders gathered in Davos that his Department would be contributing £110 million in seed capital to a private-public partnership fund with the goal of raising £3 billion in total for renewable energy in emerging economies.

Add this financial commitment to a steady regulatory environment and the private sector will be happy to play its part.

Climate change can create unlikely allies

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani raised eyebrows in Davos when he opened the door to collaboration on climate change issues with India.

He described the cycle of drought and flooding in the country as “horrible” and when asked whether the two could work together he said: “Yes, certainly there can be cooperation. We have [an] excellent relationship with India and we want to work together”.

Climate change impacts tend not to discriminate against national boundaries, it only makes sense that the solutions don’t either.

Food is going to get more expensive

Not a new message but it resonates when it comes from the CEO of Unilever.

As well as selling a lot of food, the consumer goods conglomerate also buys a lot of raw food-stuffs and is acutely aware of how the market works.

“The two key drivers are that food demand is rising, and thanks to unsustainable farming and climate change events, the world is running out of good fertile land for agriculture,” said Paul Polman.

New democracies need new environmental policy

A new ranking of Environmental Policy released at Davos placed Iraq rock bottom.

The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) by Yale and Columbia Universities in the US, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, recognises the special circumstances in Iraq.

Coal-burning central Asian states were also picked out as poor performers.

Russia finished 106th out of 132 countries.

“You see severe breakdowns in the environmental health category. This is a category where a lot of countries have experienced gains over the last decade, but for Russia, they have been experiencing severe declining trends in air quality,” Angel Hsu, project director of EPI.

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