6 things we learned about the environment at the WEF 2019

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Environment1. Young people stood up for the planet and their futures
Six of the co-chairs from the Annual Meeting were from our Global Shapers community, a network of young inspiring young people all under the age of 30. Akira Sakano, CEO of Zero Waste Academy in Japan, told Davos that younger generations don’t have to stop and think about whether to take action for the environment, ‘it just comes naturally, like breathing”.
It calls for people around the world to raise their voice for nature and to show leaders in businesses and government that they have support from their citizens, consumers, and employees to raise the level of ambition and action for safeguarding nature, protecting our oceans and forests, and tackling climate change. We can expect to see more from this campaign during the next two years.
Sixteen-year-old climate activist, Greta Thunberg, also joined Davos with a heartfelt, urgent, and candid message, “I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic … and act as if the house was on fire.

2. There were strong calls for a new action agenda for nature
In parallel, there was a growing realisation that climate change and biodiversity are two-sides of the same coin. While much of the attention to date has been on climate action, Davos 2019 also saw strong calls for a new agenda for nature to complement action on climate and the ocean.
For context, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued an urgent warning in October 2018 that humanity has just 12 years left to keep global warming to below 1.5°C and avoid a climate catastrophe. The same month, WWF released the 2018 Living Planet Report, which revealed that the average abundance of more than 4,000 species across the globe has declined by 60% since 1980. Our oceans have also been warming 40% faster than previously thought and are struggling to cope with the 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste we deposit in them every year.
2020 could be the moment for transformational change in response to these interconnected issues. Some delegates even called it a ‘super year’ for the environment with major UN meetings scheduled for each of these issues. The feeling among many participants was that governments and businesses must seize this opportunity to ‘step up’ both ambition and action and set the planet on a path to recovery.

3. Action to protect the Amazonian rainforest
The Government of Peru announced it was joining forces with the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 to reduce deforestation stemming from the production of commodities and to support sustainable rural development. The move is significant because Peru has 69 million hectares of forests – more than half of the country’s land area – and has the second-largest amount of Amazonian forests after Brazil. It builds on a number of pilot projects Peru has put in place for forest conservation and will see the government partnering with both the private sector and civil society to reduce the deforestation that accounts for more than 50% of Peru’s greenhouse gas emissions.

4. E-waste
Startlingly, it was revealed in Davos that the world produces 44.7 million tonnes of electronic waste every year,  which is more than the weight of all commercial jet planes ever built. Africa, in particular, has become a ‘dumping site’ for e-waste. To address this problem, 10 global companies have pledged to take back the electronic waste that stems from their products. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) also announced a partnership with the government of Nigeria, UN Environment, Dell, HP, Microsoft, and Philips. The GEF has invested $2 million and the partners plan to raise another $13 million from the private sector.

5. Innovation for food systems
A new initiative was launched to develop and scale-up policies and finance for innovation within the global food system. In particular, the Innovation with a Purpose platform focuses on Fourth Industrial Revolution innovations to address challenges such as lack of traceability across food supply chains, environmental impact, and food safety.

6. Climate action – the practical part
While big climate commitments or campaigns tend to steal the headlines, there is an awful lot of less glamorous work needed to translate those commitments into real action and into the processes that actually transform industries and operating models.
It sounds quite dry, but it is necessary and effective. For example, a group of 50 global CEOs responsible for generating more than $1.3 trillion in revenue and with operations in 20 economic sectors across more than 150 countries and territories, met to discuss the practical things they could do reduce emissions.
Having so far reduced their collective emissions by 9% since 2016, they developed ‘climate governance’ principles to help corporate boards manage climate change by translating climate risks into business processes. As they say, what gets measured, matters.

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