23 January 2016: The World Economic Forum's (WEF) Annual Meeting convened under the theme, 'Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution,' with the aim of building a shared understanding of current changes and shaping a collective future that places humans at the center.
Participants reflected that 2016 must be a year of implementation on climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The WEF Annual Meeting addressed, among other topics: climate change; environmental protection and resource scarcity; food security and agriculture; inclusive, sustainable growth and security; employment, skills and human capital; and gender parity. It also showcased the private sector's role in achieving the SDGs. The event brought together over 40 Heads of State and government with 2,500 leaders from UN agencies, business and civil society.
'The New Climate and Development Imperative' session addressed the implications of the Paris Agreement and the SDGs, drivers for action for development and climate targets, and the role of technology in improving ambition over time. Speaking at the session, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that “The SDGs and climate change must go together.” He outlined five steps forward: conversion of national climate plans into bankable investment strategies and projects; financing for developing countries to use low-carbon sources to meet high energy demands; increased attention and resources for climate resilience; increased climate actions at all levels, including public-private partnerships; and ratification of the Paris Agreement. Also addressing the session, Norway's Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, stated that “We will never manage to reach climate targets if we don't create social fairness in the world.”
Another session on 'A New Climate for Doing Business' reflected on the opportunities and responsibilities for business, entrepreneurship and innovation as a result of the Paris Agreement. Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), highlighted the potential for change in developing countries, which she said “represent our biggest opportunity to support…growth in a clean, predictable and safe way.” Observing that the world needs US$5.5 trillion per year to meet the Paris Agreement commitments, Stuart Gulliver, HSBC Holdings, expressed confidence that “there is enough money in the private sector to do this.” Panelists shared their companies' efforts to, inter alia: transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy; advocate for a new climate economy; and put a price on carbon for internal operations and supply chains.
In a keynote speech delivered at the Global Goals Dinner, UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Mogens Lykketoft called for a “focus on getting off to the best start possible” in achieving the SDGs. He underlined the importance of signals that “those with power and privilege will live up to their responsibilities” to achieve the Goals and ensure the SDGs gain traction. Lykketoft explained that he will host a high-level meeting in April to showcase implementation. He asked world leaders to come prepared to share their country plans to achieve the Goals and called upon the private sector to align their business practices with the Goals, including on issues such as the environment and taxation.
At a Global Compact event, Ban underscored the business community's “enormous power to create decent jobs, open access to education and basic services, unlock energy solutions and end discrimination…[and] drive global progress.” He stressed 2016 as critical in “turning global promises into reality,” calling on governments to “take the lead with decisive steps” and business to “provide essential solutions and resources that put our world on a more sustainable path.” Ban welcomed the Global Compact's steps to translate the SDGs into action and innovation, highlighting the potential of its 85 Global Compact Local Networks to further mobilize action.
“There is no business case for enduring poverty,” observed Unilever CEO Paul Polman at WEF press conference. He called for tackling poverty, inequality and environmental challenges, saying “every business will benefit from operating in a more equitable, resilient world if we achieve the SDGs.” Polman and former UN Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch-Brown launched The Global Commission on Business and Sustainable Development, which aims to articulate the economic case for businesses to engage in the SDGs. The Commission will present a report in 2017 that: analyzes how business models can align profitability with social purpose; maps financial tools for aligning economic and social returns; shows how collaboration among governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector can build a future where businesses can promote job creation and inclusive, sustainable growth; and examines the risks to business performance and stability from not addressing the SDGs.
In a blog post on the WEF, Paul Ladd, Director of the UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), suggests three ways for business leaders to commit to the SDGs and increase resilience to future shocks. Ladd describes the positive feedback loops between technology and taxes while cautioning that advances in technology can exacerbate inequalities and the politics of tax reform “are slow and difficult.” He highlights universal social protection as critical in supporting people through their active working lives and beyond, including ensuring a minimum level of income to support socially acceptable standards of living, access to essential services and opportunities for lifelong education and training.
On business and growth, participants called for a new model of growth beyond a country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Economist Joseph Stiglitz stressed, “What we measure informs what we do. And if we're measuring the wrong thing, we're going to do the wrong thing.” Similarly, MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson said GDP does not measure “how well we are all doing” but “counts the things that we're buying and selling.”
On gender equality, a panel convened on 'Progress Towards Parity.' Sheryl Sanberg, Facebook, described the “toddler wage gap,” saying gender inequality starts very young. Actress Emma Watson observed that full female participation in the workforce would be “the single biggest stimulus to the economy” and stressed that the world will never achieve gender equality unless everyone—women and men, girls and boys, are involved.
“Women are chronically under-represented in leadership roles and in formal employment overall,” UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said at the launch of the inaugural ‘HeforShe Parity Report,' which finds that the proportion of senior leadership roles held by women ranges from 11 to 33% among the world's ten leading companies. The report presents data on gender diversity in the workforce, including data on board membership, leadership roles and new hires among ten companies.
Sessions also convened on, inter alia: financing and operationalizing the SDGs; the global science outlook; and regional and national economic outlooks. Briefings took place on WEF Issue Briefs, including on the plastics economy, the gender gap and jobs. Ban appointed 17 SDG Advocates and launched a panel on women's economic empowerment. More