Many view the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting as the ultimate snapshot of the current state of the world. As always, this year’s event will provide great intellectual and political fodder for attendees, as well as for the public, who will follow the event through live stream, social media, and traditional media reports.
In the coming week at Davos, we will certainly hear strong debates over immediate concerns—the rapid fall in oil prices, geopolitics (no Vladimir Putin this year), and, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, security and terrorism. But most interesting to me about this year’s agenda is the prominence of long-term questions, especially climate change and the rise of mass automation and artificial intelligence—two topics that will be with us for decades to come. The ability of the global community to come to grips with these questions will determine whether we meet the goal of ensuring prosperous lives for the global population.
Climate is not a new topic at Davos. The world’s foremost actors on climate—including Al Gore, Christiana Figueres of the UNFCCC, Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace, and corporate climate leaders like Paul Polman of Unilever—are Davos veterans. What is new this year is the urgency presented by the ever-clearer data about the impacts of a changing climate, as well as the “forcing function” of the intergovernmental COP21 negotiations set to conclude in Paris this December.
In this context, Davos represents a crucial stop on the road to Paris, with the main negotiations taking place over the first half of 2015. A combination of government negotiations, new corporate commitments, and NGO advocacy will all come to the fore. At BSR, we are supporting collective business action through the We Mean Business coalition, which is advancing the dialogue about how business ambition and smart policy are both essential to progress.
While climate has had a place on the agenda for years, artificial intelligence is the topic shooting up the charts at Davos this year.
The World Economic Forum has identified unemployment and income inequality as the two top risks facing the world in 2015. At the same time, the Forum has clearly positioned the rise of artificial intelligence and mass automation as the great wild cards that will determine whether the ongoing decoupling of productivity and employment will enable widely shared prosperity, reinforce income inequality, destroy millions of manufacturing jobs in rising economies, or some combination of the three.
My own agenda at Davos focuses on climate, as well as the NGO-business dialogue, the changing shape of the consumer sector, and the circular economy. And, as has been true in prior years, I hope to return home with new impressions that deliver new insights to enrich BSR’s perspective—including ideas to help tackle long term global challenges with concrete, practical, and actionable steps.