26 January 2018: The 48th World Economic Forum (WEF 48) Annual Meeting brought together over 3,000 participants from over 100 countries to discuss opportunities for creating a shared future and embracing “our common humanity” in the face of rapid technological change. Leaders made commitments and announcements related to climate change, oceans, the digital divide, sanitation, and gender equality, among others.

WEF 48 convened in Davos, Switzerland, from 23-26 January 2018, and included participation from over 340 public figures, including more than 70 heads of state and government and 45 heads of international organizations. The Forum convened under the theme, ‘Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World,’ with the aim of rededicating “leaders from all walks of life” to improve the state of the world through co-design, co-creation, and collaboration.

WEF featured over 400 sessions that contributed to the meeting’s six agendas: the global agenda related to its 14 System Initiatives and efforts to advance major multilateral processes, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); the geopolitical agenda; the economic agenda, which focused on delivering sustainable and inclusive economic development; the regional and national agenda; the industry and business agenda, in preparation for scientific, technological and policy transformations and the Fourth Industrial Revolution; and the future agenda, which focused on sharing ideas, innovations, and discoveries to reshape global systems.

WEF focused on driving positive change through 14 System Initiatives meant to shape the future of: consumption; the digital economy; economic progress; education gender and work; energy; natural resource security; financial systems; food security and agriculture; health care; information and entertainment; trade and investment; infrastructure and development; and mobility shaping the future of production.

For the first time, WEF featured an all-female panel of seven co-chairs. Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg called for action on gender equality and corruption and illegal financial flows. Chetna Sinha, Founder and Chair of the Mann Deshi Foundation, urged financial access for everyone and announced a Rupee 100 million alternative investment fund to encourage more women entrepreneurs. On human rights and related to gender, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein underscored the role of the private sector in ending discrimination and ensuring equal opportunities for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people in the workplace and beyond.

Leaders also highlighted challenges posed by climate change. In his speech, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi described climate change as one of the three greatest threats to “the survival of human civilization.” He called for “resources to help developing countries adopt appropriate technology” to reduce carbon emissions. France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, announced that France would close all its coal-fired power stations by 2021 and make climate action one of five pillars in an economic reform plan. Liu He, an official of the Government of China, identified pollution reduction as one of three critical challenges for his country. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also discussed climate action, while Thomas Buberl, head of global insurance company AXA, said the corporation will stop insuring coal projects and plans to divest from coal.

On oceans, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson, and Isabella Lövin, Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister, launched the ‘Friends of Ocean Action’ partnership with US$4.5 million in funding from the Benioff Ocean Initiative. The global partnership to save the oceans will bring together 40 ocean leaders and activists to leverage their collective networks and accelerate action towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal on Oceans (SDG 14).

On tackling pollution and waste, leaders from Alphabet, The Coca-Cola Company, Royal Philips, Unilever and others will partner with the governments of China, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Rwanda and international organizations to form the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE). PACE aims to go beyond the 9% of waste that is currently cycled back into the economy by tackling plastics pollution and electronic waste. Chile is partnering with TriCiclos and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to implement a national plan to move towards a circular economy, making it the second country in the world to implement such a plan.

The UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development announced its intention to connect the world’s 3.8 billion people without internet access by 2025. The Commission set seven targets that focus on expanding broadband infrastructure, internet access and use in support of achieving the SDGs. Targets to “connect the other half” include: ensuring that 60% of the world’s youth and adult population achieve a minimum level of proficiency in sustainable digital skills; reducing by 50% the number of unconnected micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises; and ensuring the affordability of entry-level broadband services in developing countries, at less than 2% of monthly gross national income per capita (GNI). The WEF addressed a number of other related topics during its sessions, including on big data and artificial intelligence.

Organizations announced many other technology-related initiatives. They included: the WEF initiative, the IT industry Skills Initiative, aiming to reach one million IT workers by 2021; Peru plans to launch an ‘Internet for All’ programme in 2018; the Craig Newmark Foundation in collaboration with WEF will collaborate to bring together internet platform giants with multi-stakeholder leaders, as part of efforts to tackle fake news; the Government of Canada and WEF launched a ‘Known Traveller digital Identity’ prototype to test emerging technologies, with the aim of facilitating more secure and seamless air travel; and WEF launched the Global Centre for Cybersecurity, a multi-stakeholder platform that aims to create a safe operating environment for new technologies like the artificial intelligence, the internet of things, drones and autonomous vehicles.

On sanitation, the Toilet Board Coalition (TBC) highlighted the opportunity of the ‘Sanitation Economy,’ the future marketplace of tackling the global sanitation crisis through innovative toilet design, smart digital technologies, and the circular economy. During a WEF roundtable discussion, CEOs expressed support for a new Action Agenda for the Sanitation Economy. Unilever CEO Paul Polman said the TBC’s work on the Sanitation Economy “highlights the immense business opportunities of providing universal access to safe sanitation,” stressing that SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) should be a key part of companies’ growth strategies.

In addition, the WEF’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution added new network centers in India, Japan and the United Arab Emirates and several countries and companies joined as partners. Denmark became the first European country to partner with WEF and will collaborate with WEF on green growth, trade and education, gender, and work.

On poverty and inequality, Oxfam’s Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima said that a future without global extreme poverty “is possible if we redesign our economy to truly reward hard work, rather than wealth.”

Additional announcements made at WEF addressed, inter alia, issues related to genomics, decent work, rule of law, education, and food security. On education, Canada will double its commitment to the Global Partnership for Education Fund, providing an extra CAD$180 million between 2018 and 2020. The Earth Bio-Genome Project and the Earth Bank of Codes will sequence the DNA of all life on earth, with the aim of averting extinction and tackling habitat loss and bio-piracy. On poverty eradication, the WEF initiative, the Closing the Skills Gap, aims to deliver new skills to 10 million workers by 2020; WEF launched the ‘UpLink’ initiative to connect start-ups with investors, universities, governments and others; and Common Goal launched a program that aims to break the cycle of poverty by encouraging footballers to pledge one percent of their salaries to charities that use football as a tool for social change. Finally, on food security, the WEF initiative, Meat: The Future, will identify ways to transform the future of meat and protein production to deliver safe, affordable and sustainable protein. On rule of law, Thomson Reuters, Europol and WEF are partnering to tackle human trafficking and money laundering, including by promoting more effective information-sharing and improving compliance.

Many publications addressed topics related to the WEF 48 theme. The Business and Sustainable Development Commission’s Blended Finance Taskforce released a consultation paper titled, ‘Better Finance, Better World,’ to develop actionable recommendations on the 2030 agenda. The annual ‘Inclusive Development Index’ (IDI) assesses the economic performance of 103 countries on 11 dimensions of economic progress that go beyond gross domestic product (GDP). The report examines living standards and how nations “future-proof” their economies. The ‘Global Risks Report’ finds that environmental risks are among the most dangerous facing the world. The publication, ‘Harnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution for Life on Land’ highlights how human activity has placed increasing stress on the earth’s natural systems. ‘Innovation with a Purpose: The role of technology innovation in accelerating food systems transformation’ identifies emerging technologies that can drive the sustainability, inclusivity, efficiency, and health impacts of food systems to achieve the SDGs. The report, ‘Towards a Reskilling Revolution’ underscores the importance of life-long learning. Other WEF reports address recycling, the global gender gap, the impact of migration on cities, and data on migration, among other topics. [WEF Website] [WEF Overview] [WEF Press Releases] [WEF Reports] [UN Press Release on Global Migration Data] [UN Press Release on LGBTI Standards] [TBC Press Release] [Publication: Better Finance, Better World] [Press Briefing on UNGA President at WEF] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on PACE]