While climate and environment have been placed on the agenda of this week’s World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, the meeting itself is lined with business and political leaders who have proven time and time again that business as usual is the only direction they are willing to take.
Representatives of fossil fuel firms like BP, Chevron, and Saudi Aramco as well as heads of investment banks are included among those attending the annual meeting whose alleged purpose is to set the year’s agenda for how businesses and governments can make the world a better place for everyone.
Decision makers, attendants, and those whose voices will be platformed at the WEF skew towards support for carbon-intense energy and leave climate activists, scientists, and renewable energy leaders muted. As a result, the needs and wishes expressed favor the 1%. A similar conflict of interest will characterize this year’s COP28 climate summit in the United Arab Emirates, presided over by Sultan Al Jaber, the head of the country’s oil company and energy businesses.
But how can state representatives – who have been elected to ostensibly improve the lives of their constituents – be expected to make good on their promises to address climate change when the very industry that has propelled us into the current crisis will be present in the room?
The latest UN climate report has spelled out clearly that 1.5 degrees of warming isn’t safe, and the WEF’s own Global Risk Report for 2023 acknowledges the “ever shrinking window for transition to a 1.5 C world”, and the broad risk that resource shortages and climate change pose globally. These make up five of the next two year’s top ten concerns, and on top of this, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse is ranked as the most rapidly deteriorating global risks over the next decade.
Despite this, the world’s largest economies continue to fund and finance fossil fuel development and lag behind on taking meaningful action to accelerate the energy transition that these risks demand are necessary. From 2019 to 2021, G20 countries and the major multilateral development banks (MDBs) funneled USD 55 billion per year into fossil fuels.
Amid rising inflation, energy and cost of living crisis that has spanned the globe and been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the presence of fossil fuel lobbyists threatens to draw appeal to typical band aid solutions. Fossil fuel dependency is what has gotten us into this mess, and it won’t get us out.
The world’s energy system and associated economic interdependence has been exposed as volatile and insecure, with the burden of increased prices falling on households with the least financial privilege.
We know the solutions: Public money needs to be redirected into renewable energy at scale to accelerate the just transition in the energy, transport and agricultural sectors, to protect and restore our ecosystems, and to finance loss and damage while investing in adaptation and mitigation.
Instead of funneling trillions into fossil fuels, G20 countries can suspend the collection of debt from MDB loans in the Global South, and transform lending frameworks to prioritize climate resilience in most affected regions.
According to World Energy Outlook, positive actions like the US Inflation Reduction Act, the EU’s Fit for 55 package and RePowerEU, Japan’s Green Transformation (GX), and long-term clean energy targets set by Korea, India, and China could more than double today’s clean energy investments by 2030 and see global emissions peak in 2025.
But stronger policies are needed to increase renewable energy investment and avoid climate impacts associated with 1.5 or 2 degrees of warming. Public finance for fossil fuel projects remains double the amount currently provided for clean energy.
We will not legitimize the WEF by making demands of climate culprits while the voices of most affected communities, renewable energy campaigners, and experts are left out of the conversation. While the world’s wealthy gather this week, the communities who they claim to represent are experiencing climate catastrophe in real time.