World leaders, CEOs and academics will come together in the Swiss resort of Davos for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) from 21 to 24 January. The summit’s programme and participant list hint at a clear theme of this year’s summit: Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues will likely dominate the conversations.
Looking through the 66-page agenda of panel discussions and briefings, the highlights will include:
- Multiple sessions on the rise of sustainable investment. The programme notes: “With over $30 trillion in assets under management across sustainable investing strategies, the public appetite for companies creating stakeholder value is increasing.”
- A panel warning CEOs that air pollution causes seven million deaths a year, which looks at how policies and practices can combat pollution.
- A session that makes the “business case for biodiversity”, calling on business to play a role in reversing nature loss and restoring the planet’s natural systems. Scientists estimate that half of all species face extinction by the end of the century unless urgent action is taken.
Discussions will not only focus on climate. Other social issues are also becoming more important:
- Three sessions will look at how companies can support employees who are LGBT, who suffer from mental ill health, or who have faced sexual harassment at work.
- A panel will look at modern slavery and how forced labour recruitment is facilitated by digitization.
- An “SDG Lab” will be held all week at the Hilton Garden Inn in Davos. It will bring together representatives from the UN, the World Bank, the EU and the private sector to discuss why it is important for companies to work towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
ESG also represented on the guest list
The participant list for the World Economic Forum in Davos is as long as ever, stretching to 125 pages of representatives corporate, government, NGO and academic institutions. This year’s list has a different feel to previous years, with so many delegates’ job roles focusing in some way on the environment and climate change. This reflects the pressure being put on companies to commit to making a positive impact on ESG issues. Here are some highlights from the list:
- Governments are sending their environment ministers, for example Sweden’s Isabella Lövin and the UAE’s Ahmed Al Zeyoudi.
- Many companies are sending their ESG leads – for example, the German insurance firm Allianz will be represented by its ESG investment manager. The media usually send financial correspondents, but this year the likes of TIME Magazine, the New York Times and Die Welt have sent environmental reporters. The media attention suggests clear reputational risks for companies who ignore ESG issues.
- Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old environmental activist, will attend. She represents a global movement of young people who are demanding governments and companies take action to stop climate change. The Davos programme echoes this: “Young people are mobilising and increasingly influencing today’s most pressing political and environmental issues.”
Companies under pressure
This year’s discussions at Davos are expected to put even more pressure on companies and governments to reduce their environmental impact. If CEOs do not heed the warnings, companies face losing investor and customer support. We’ll be reporting on this and other themes and trends emerging from the summit. Stay tuned for more here and on our Twitter and LinkedIn channels.