Environmental issues high on the agenda at The World Economic Forum

24 January 2019

The World Economic Forum, the annual meeting of business and political leaders in Davos, has seen celebrities, experts, business leaders and ordinary people call for action on environmental issues.

Broadcaster and natural historian Sir David Attenborough, interviewed by Prince William, told the World Economic Forum that the climate change crisis is hard to overstate and urged the crowd to change their attitudes: “We must recognise that every breath of air and mouthful of food that we take comes from the natural world. If we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves. We are one coherent ecosystem. It's not just a question of beauty, a healthy planet is the essential part of human life.”

Experts have also been highlighting the climate change crisis. The World Economic Forum survey interviews around 1,000 experts and decision-makers to produce their annual global risks report. This year environment-related risks account for three of the top five risks by likelihood and four of the top five by impact. These include: biodiversity loss, extreme weather events, failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation, man-made disasters, and natural disasters.

Businesses are similarly using Davos as a platform to talk about climate change. IKEA boss Jesper Brodin told CNBC: “The biggest concern we have is that the clock is ticking when it comes to climate and resource scarcity. We need to find new business models, we need to find new equations for material in order to be able to serve the many people. That’s why we’re in a hurry. Big corporates need to take the role of responsibility. Being a big corporate we assume the responsibility.”

However, it’s not clear all CEOs are equally motivated. PWC’s 22nd Annual Global CEO Survey found concerns about climate change and environmental damage have declined. In 2018 31% of CEOs were extremely concerned about climate change and environmental damage. In 2019 this has dropped to just 19%.

Despite this decline in CEO concern, new research has found ordinary people want CEOs to take action to improve society and the environment. Ahead of Davos, the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer surveyed 33,000 people across the world. The survey found 76% of people want CEOs to fight for change and a majority believe CEOs have the ability to positively change the environment. People don’t view positive change as a zero-sum game and 73% believe businesses can increase profits whilst improving society.

There’s optimism in Davos; Sir David Attenborough said he believed business and global leaders are starting to recognise that the natural world is not there to be conquered. Similarly, WWF International’s Director-General Marco Lambertini told Politico: “We’re seeing a lot of change — cultural change — at the top of major groups and companies in terms of the awareness for environmental issues. These issues are beginning to be less and less something nice to do, and more and more to be actually part of companies’ strategy, pressured by consumers. But also science has never been clearer than today in telling us: actually environmental risks are beginning to hit the bottom line of business. The business is beginning to get it.”

There are new and exciting campaigns; the Alliance to End Plastic Waste has unveiled a $1.5bn investment goal and We Value Nature is working with businesses to understand the obstacles they face and identify solutions.

Businesses understand that high-end climate change would be catastrophic; but to change the way businesses think about the environment they need to believe they’re acting in their best interest, rather than being forced to change. We must act quickly, but the mood is positive and through campaigns such as We Value Nature there is potential to gain momentum and make a real difference.

Oppla is working with We Value Nature to help make valuing nature the new normal for business. To help shape the direction of the campaign please register for an initial survey.