Concern, hope, enthusiasm: This was the mixture of sentiments that I perceived during the World Economic Forum (WEF) Sustainable Development Impact Summit in New York City last month.
More than 700 leaders from more than 70 countries took part—including government, business, international organizations, research centers, and not-for profits. Panelists included Salesforce CEO Marc R. Benioff, Mars president Jean-Christophe Flatin, Roche vice-chairman André S. Hoffmann, and Royal Philips president and CEO Frans van Houten.
Former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner* Al Gore pointed out, in a panel discussion titled “Global Progress through Partnerships,” that the past two weeks saw two record-breaking climate-connected storms. Hurricane Harvey crossed the Gulf of Mexico, which was over four degrees warmer than normal, resulting in enormous amounts of rain. The rainfall totals in Houston were a once-every-25,000-years event. The monsoon in South Asia also brought 70 cm more rain than normal, with one-third of Bangladesh underwater.
Gore said, “We are departing the familiar bounds of history as we have known it since civilization began.” In contrast, other areas are experiencing devastating droughts: 80 percent of Portugal is in drought, and 70 large fires have burned in the western part of North America.
These conditions also create climate refugees. “Long before the civil war in Syria started, the worst drought in 900 years of record-keeping destroyed 60 percent of farms. One and a half million climate refugees entered the cities,” Gore pointed out, adding that this is a contributing factor to the war in Syria.
“But,” Gore added, “we are also meeting in a time of extraordinary and unprecedented hope.” The World Economic Forum was incremental in building the success of the Paris Agreement, and will continue to play a key role in implementing it. “Public private partnerships are the keys to putting in place the solutions we need.”
The day after the U.S. government announced it would leave the Paris Agreement, Gore said, political and business leaders, states, cities, etc., doubled down on their commitment, saying “We are still there!” SAP is one of the companies that is strongly committed to climate action: We plan to be carbon-neutral by 2025.
According to Gore, there are additional reasons for hope: Technology becomes better and cheaper all the time, a phenomenon known as the “cost-down curve.” Gadgets can now be run with wind or solar energy, and efficiency is better than ever. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is also a sustainability revolution,” Gore said. Technology is key to meeting the sustainable development goals.
This was also consensus in the panel discussion “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Technology-Driven, Human-Centred”: Panelists emphasized the opportunities technology brings, from artificial intelligence (AI) to improve working conditions to mobile phones in India that enable everyone to play a part in the economy (e.g. have a bank account)—even those who were formerly excluded. For girls in Africa, learning IT and coding skills bring hope for a better life.
My take? It is up to us to ensure that the opportunities technology offers outweigh the risks. To help drive awareness around the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and showcase examples of how IT can help contribute to them, SAP has published an interactive web book and iPad app as well as a free online course on openSAP: “Sustainability through Digital Transformation.”
The theme of most of the speeches and discussions I witnessed at the summit was “There is no planet B,” but also “Together we can make it,” meaning that government, public, and private-sector organizations need to cooperate to tackle the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With partnerships and cooperation, they have the power to create positive economic, social, and environmental value through technology, solutions, and skills.
World Economic Forum founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab described the summit’s intention: “What is needed is a true agenda for global public-private cooperation, with the objective not to defend individual interests, but to keep the destiny of humankind as a whole in mind.”
As a result of the summit, several major new initiatives that will advance public-private cooperation on the global goals were announced or launched, including:
- Global Battery Alliance to clean up global battery supply chains
- A national task force to Close the Skills Gap in South Africa.
- Fourth Industrial Revolution for the Earth, a public-private initiative to identify, fund, and scale new ventures that harness technologies for the environment.
- Fourth-Sector Development Initiative to grow the ecosystem of “for-benefit” enterprises
- Global Alliance on Closing the Gender Gap
- Disaster Risk Innovation Fund by the GSMA and UK Department for International Development (DFID) to test and scale innovations using mobile technologies to help people in humanitarian emergencies
These initiatives show the will to cooperate and the readiness to act of leaders from all over the world—let us all have a part in tackling the biggest challenges of the planet!
*The Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 was awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and former US Vice President Al Gore for their efforts to obtain and disseminate information about the climate challenge. In Gore’s case, the award was grounded in his tireless campaign to put the climate crisis on the political agenda.