After the Davos Agenda: what to expect for 2021

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31 January, 2021


Insights from the CEO



Peter Bakker

Geneva, 31 January 2021: This week traditionally marked the gathering of heads of governments, business leaders and civil society in the snowy mountains of Switzerland for the World Economic Forum annual meeting. This year, the Davos meetings were held virtually and many nevertheless gathered online to discuss the state of the world. Klaus Schwab called 2021 “a pivotal year, to continue to fight the virus and to find a way to create sound economic growth that is more resilient, more inclusive and more sustainable. But, above all we need to restore trust in the world.” Building on these priorities, the Davos agenda looked at a number of significant themes:

  • Stakeholder capitalism (including the launch of Klaus Schwab’s similarly titled book): making the case for a global economy that works for progress, people and planet;
  • Enhancing global stewardship: focusing on the climate crisis and achieving a net-zero world; and
  • Creating fair and inclusive economic systems: focusing on the future of work.

As usual, a number of important statements were released ahead of and during the week:

  • Edelman Trust Barometer: showing that trust continues to decline in all parts of the world. Business is now the most trusted of all institutions and mandated to lead some of the most pressing global challenges;
  • Global Risks Report: with “climate action failure, extreme weather and biodiversity loss” among the main global risks through to 2030, and societal unrest and growing inequality throughout all parts of the world; and
  • Larry Fink’s annual CEO Letter: confirming that capital markets are starting to change. He emphasized the devasting impact that the pandemic has on human lives and the inequality that needs to be addressed. Furthermore, it contains a strong focus on the need to move towards a global standard for ESG disclosures as well as on the need to address the climate emergency.

These developments clearly illustrate that the integration of sustainability in the economic agenda globally has finally made it to Davos. As such, it is great news that much of the scope of work at WBCSD is now reflected in the Davos agenda. It means that sustainability is no longer about giving back or about a side show in a tent down the Davos boulevard, but that it is placed squarely at the heart of the meetings.

It also makes the mission of WBCSD so clear.

As leaders go to Davos to talk about sustainability, they will look at WBCSD to help getting things done. To lay out the roadmap with priorities for the critical decade ahead in support of the essential systemic transformations, WBCSD will – on 25 March – launch a business action-oriented refresh of Vision 2050 that has been in the making over the last 19 months with over 40 businesses from our membership.

Let me give you a sneak preview.

It starts with a shared vision.

Together with our member companies, we believe that 9+ billion people can live well, within planetary boundaries, by 2050. Using the latest scientific and development thinking, we have a clear understanding of what that means. “Living well” means that everyone’s dignity and rights are respected, basic needs are met, and equal opportunities are available for all. Living “within planetary boundaries” means that nature is protected, restored and used sustainably, and societies have developed sufficient adaptive capacity to build and maintain resilience in a healthy and regenerative Earth system.

We need to act faster, together, to lead the critical transformations in the coming decade.

Business plays a central role in driving and delivering the actions, innovations, products and services, that are required to transform our economic systems, including: energy; transportation & mobility; living spaces; products & materials; financial products & services; connectivity; health & well-being; water & sanitation; and food.

We have less than ten years to get these pathways of transformation on track for a net-zero and nature-positive economy. Moreover, the pandemic and the growing social unrest around the world have made clear that the vision will only be successful if we put the “S” of ESG at the center of our thinking and actions; in more simple terms: our people and communities. People and their well-being should become a much bigger part of “sustainability” and tackling inequality will be a top priority.

Mindset shifts are crucial.

The transformations will only be achieved successfully through three critical strategic business mindsets shifts:

  1. Towards reinventing capitalism: what could capitalism achieve if companies were managed to deliver long-term, inclusive and true (sustainable) value?
  2. Towards building long-term resilience: how can we make our companies resilient to absorb and adapt to the changes that are already locked in, the disruptions that will surely come, and the transformations that we know are needed?
  3. Towards taking a regenerative approach: can regenerative thinking help us restore and nourish the social and environmental systems that our business success depends on?

It is time to succeed.

We know why rapid action is needed. And many years of debates and exploration on what to do have led to widely accepted and understood action areas, including net zero actions for example. Now it is important that we define and agree on how to get there.

Vision 2050 contains unprecedented guidance for the required actions, pathways and mindset shifts that will make up the system transformations to realize the shared vision of a world in which 9+ billion people live well, within planetary boundaries.

Leadership will be the key differentiator for success or failure.

You know us, we are not proposing a utopian ideal; rather, Vision 2050 is a pragmatic albeit ambitious guide for CEOs and business leaders to contribute to the transformation in line with global commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. To provide leaders across governments, businesses and civil society with a comprehensive overview and common understanding of where to get to. Think of it as the “How to guide to true sustainability for business”.

A key differentiator for the success or failure of the systemic and sustainable transformation will be your leadership as a business leader, together with your CFO and Board, society and other key stakeholders. If we unite as business leaders and stand behind this shared business agenda, we can have the impact that is within our reach and meets the needs of our planet and people.

A Super Year for sustainability : 2021

The global events calendar for 2021 is busy. It remains to be seen if these will take place in person, hybrid or still virtual, but it is good to take note of some key moments:

  • Vision 2050’s virtual launch event (25 March)
  • the Leaders’ Climate Summit on Earth Day (22 April) President Joe Biden just announced
  • our Liaison Delegate meeting (19-21 April)
  • the Nature CBD-COP15 in China (17-30 May)
  • the World Economic Forum meeting in Singapore (17-20 August)
  • the Food Systems Summit in New York (September)
  • our Council Member meeting in Tokyo (26-29 October)
  • the Climate Change COP26 in Glasgow (1-12 November)

It is time to transform.