Climate and other big themes for business - WEF Davos 2023

Last week the World Economic Forum met at Davos, with record numbers of government officials and business leaders in attendance.  

“It’s always interesting to see what the most notable trends are coming out of Davos, as an indicator of what will be the top priority for businesses as we head into a new year. I’m not surprised to see the climate crisis dominating talks, and it has become a key pillar of our strategy here at BDO also. The announcements from China that it is fully open will have a significant impact on many Kiwi businesses that do trade with that country, while technology continues to evolve at pace, with far-reaching consequences for organisations both worldwide and here at home.” – David O’Connor, BDO New Zealand Chair.  

BDO Chair David O'Connor isn't surprised to see climate taking centre stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week. 

Climate a key focus for global business 

Despite predictions of a global recession, it was climate that took centre stage, showing the importance that governments and the most senior figures in the global business community now place on the topic. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres outlined that cooperation and collaboration was the only way to address the climate crisis. He also announced new principles to enable businesses to make credible net-zero pledges and avoid greenwashing.   

A new initiative, Amplify Earth Action (GAEA), was announced with the aim of using more of the money accumulated from charitable giving to tackle climate change and nature loss, after it was revealed that only 2% of the $800 billion donated in philanthropic giving in 2021 went towards efforts to cut emissions.  

Clean technology was also high on the agenda, with Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, noting that it is the fastest-growing investment sector in Europe.  

During the forum, climate activist Greta Thunberg met with the head of the International Energy Agency to call on the industry to end all fossil fuel investments. She also presented a cease and desist letter to CEOs to stop all new oil, gas and coal extraction. The push for clean energy is being taken seriously by many world leaders, with Keir Starmer, Britain’s opposition leader, announcing that there will be no UK investment in new oil and gas fields if his Labour party were to take power.   

China opens its doors  

China was also high on the agenda, with Vice-Premier Liu He making a pitch to the world’s elite that China’s doors were fully open and ready for international investment. The call comes as Beijing tries to revive an economy that has slowed significantly as a result of the strict COVID-19 measures that it has now abolished.  

The pros and cons of AI  

Technology is always a hot topic at Davos, but this year the advent of ChatGPT and generative AI saw far-reaching predictions for its use in business and in society – with delegates citing wide-ranging applications from early detection of cancer to use as a programming aid. However it was also agreed that impersonations from AI can cause a host of issues around plagiarism, as well as the spread of misinformation. The EU is already working on an AI act to govern the use of this type of technology.   

The war in Ukraine also dominated talks, with several Ukrainian delegates sharing their proposals for peace for the country. Russia was noticeably absent from the proceedings. 

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