What Was Said at Davos on Climate Change

Global leaders attending the World Economic Forum in Switzerland agree that a rapid response is needed to stave off disaster.

Prince Charles and Greta Thunberg both spoke about climate issues last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Credit…World Economic Forum, via Associated Press

As the effects of climate change are increasing around the world, so is talk about solutions — from businesses, governments, nonprofits, individuals (especially young ones), scientists and others. While there are many advocates for change, most experts would say progress needs to be much faster to avert global disaster.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, climate change was at the top of the agenda. Talks took place in open panel discussions, hallways and private meeting rooms. Businesses and global leaders like Jane Goodall and Prince Charles made some commitments. Below are excerpts from panels and speeches, which have been edited and condensed.

The panel, a collaboration of The New York Times with support from Wellcome Trust and BCG Digital Ventures, was led by Somini Sengupta, a Times climate reporter, and looked at the climate health nexus through the strategic lens of cities. The panelists were Kate Brandt, the sustainability officer at Google; Christiana Figueres, a diplomat from Costa Rica; and Maria Neira, director of the public health, environment and social determinants of health department of the World Health Organization.

Ms. Sengupta: We, city people, have a disproportionately large carbon footprint, emitting 70 percent, give or take, of emissions. We represent 50 percent of the population and emit 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. So how are cities going to adapt to what is already a hotter planet, and how are cities going to do the heavy lifting of mitigating emissions? That’s what we’re really here to talk about.

Christiana Figueres 
Credit…Markus Schreiber/Associated Press


Ms. Figueres: All of our cities, and I know very few that are not, are congested, polluted, completely unhealthy environments. And that is an assault on our human right to health and to breathe clean air, simply put. Now it’s not so easy, obviously, to go from there to a system where all vehicles — and this is the ideal — all vehicles are shared, and hopefully not owned, and clean, and where there is efficient, clean, interconnected public transport. Because you will never get any public transport, whether it be buses, or whatever, that take you from A to B; you will always have to interconnect.

Maria Neira
Credit…Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA, via Shutterstock


Dr. Neira: If you are the mayor of a big city and you want to do something about mobility in the city, it will be very unpopular in certain ways. That’s why you need to convene a kind of working group where you involve citizens, involve mothers who are dealing every day with a child with asthma, involve all of those with health data to try to put maybe in a less painful way the life expectancy that you are losing if you live in, for example, New Delhi.

Credit…Vaughn Ridley/Sportsfile for Web Summit, via Getty Images

Ms. Brandt: And I think that’s interesting, too, about getting street-by-street air quality data. What we’re seeing in cities around the world is it’s often the most urban populations who have the worst air quality. So when you actually have that granularity of data, it becomes very stark and very clear that there are issues, and there are opportunities to address them, and you can really see that disparity actually in the air quality data.

Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager and climate activist, made the opening remarks at a Times panel, “Averting a Climate Apocalypse,” moderated by Rebecca Blumenstein, deputy managing editor of The Times, with Jun Ma, the director of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs in China; Oliver Bäte, the chief executive of Allianz; Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, coordinator of the Association of Peul Women and Autochthonous Peoples of Chad; and Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Ms. Blumenstein: Five years after the Paris Accord, governments need to reset their goals and businesses are finally and quickly talking about setting goals. We have top voices from across the world to discuss the urgency of the situation and next steps. But we are going to start with some words from Greta Thunberg, who made headlines around the world last year by saying here at Davos that our house is on fire.

Credit…Alessandro Della Valle/EPA, via Shutterstock


Ms. Thunberg: I joined a group of climate activists demanding that you, the world’s most powerful and influential business and political leaders, begin to take the action needed. We demand, at this year’s World Economic Forum, participants from all companies, banks, institutions and governments immediately halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction; immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies; and immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels. We don’t want these things done by 2050 or 2030 or even 2021. We want this done now.

Credit…Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Mr. Ma: China’s emissions [goals] have not been accomplished. We’re still burning half of the world’s coal. We need to do more. But now, at this moment, we’re facing the economic downturn locally and globally. We’re facing the [trade]war and also the withdrawal by the U.S. government from the Paris agreement. All these are not helpful. So we need to find innovative solutions which tap into the market power, which can balance growth and protection. But all this needs people to join the efforts. So with that, I truly salute the efforts to raise public awareness.

Credit…Hanna Bardo/EPA, via Shutterstock


Ms. Ibrahim: This is today. This is our reality. When the forest is barren in Australia, in the Amazon, it’s forest that is disappearing. Back in my region, it’s people that are dying. Dying because of the climate change. Losing their lives. They would not think about the future. When people talk about 2050, for me, I’m like, really? Seriously. By 2050, there’s no solution for this planet. We need it now.

Credit…Mike Cohen for The New York Times 

Mr. Shah: Climate change today bears its brunt mostly on the bottom two billion people on the planet. And so our commitment to Paris, our commitment to be serious and urgent and taking actions to meet those targets, is not just about protecting the future. It is also about protecting today people who rely on climate, environment and those natural resources to survive and to thrive.

Credit…Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Mr. Bäte: In the past it was always governments demanding business to change business models and then we had to adapt. Today, unfortunately, I believe that governments are behind the curve behind us. I can only speak for my home country. We always talk about the plans when we would get out of coal. But we’re discussing dates. We’re not discussing action. And what we are trying to do is put real action behind it.

Jane Goodall, the renowned British anthropologist, gave her support to the World Economic Forum’s initiative One Trillion Trees, which supports the growing, restoring and conserving of a trillion trees worldwide by 2030.

Credit…Alessandro Della Valle/Keystone, via Associated Press 

“The reason I think that the one trillion tree project is so exciting is, people say to me all the time what can I do? What’s one thing I can do? You can plant a tree, and whether you plant the tree in your own backyard or whether you pay to have trees planted in Tanzania, or if it’s urban or rural, you know it’s something you can do.”

Prince Charles came to the World Economic Forum after a nearly three-decade absence, with a 10-point Sustainable Markets plan that would include setting clear plans for governments and businesses to reach net zero in their carbon emissions and rooting out “perverse subsidies” that prevent the global economy from becoming more sustainable.

Prince Charles
Credit…Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Global warming, climate change and the devastating loss of biodiversity are the greatest threats humanity has ever faced and one largely of our own creation. I have dedicated much of my life to the restoration of harmony between humanity, nature and the environment, and to the encouragement of corporate, social and environmental responsibility. But now it is time to take it to the next level. To secure a future and to prosper, we need to evolve our economic model. It is not a lack of capital that is holding us back, but rather the way in which we deploy it.”