Concern, hope, enthusiasm: This was the mixture of sentiments that I perceived during the World Economic Forum (WEF) Sustainable Development Impact Summit in New York City last month.
Over 700 leaders from over 70 countries took part — from government, business, international organizations, research centers, and not-for profits. Panelists included Salesforce CEO Marc R. Benioff, Mars President Jean-Christophe Flatin, Roche Vice-Chairman André S. Hoffmann, and Royal Philips President and CEO Frans van Houten.
Former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner* Al Gore made it very clear: He pointed out in a panel discussion on “Global Progress through Partnerships,” that within the past two weeks, we had two record breaking climate connected storms: Hurricane Harvey crossed the Gulf of Mexico over four degrees warmer than normal, which resulted in enormous amounts of rain. The rain fall totals in Houston were a once in 25,000 years event. The Monsoon in South Asia also brought 70 cm more rain than normal, one third of Bangladesh was under water.
Gore emphasized: “We are departing the familiar bounds of history as we have known it since civilization began.” On the other side, there are devastating droughts: 80 per cent of Portugal is in drought and there are 70 large fires in the western part of North America.
These conditions cause climate refugees: “Long before the civil war in Syria started, the worst drought in 900 years of record keeping, destroyed 60 percent of farms. One and a half million climate refugees entered the cities,” Gore explained. He made clear that this was one of the reasons for the war in Syria.
“But we are also meeting in a time of extraordinary and unprecedented hope,” Gore said. The World Economic Forum was incremental in building the success of the Paris Agreement and now to implement it. “Public private partnerships are the keys to putting in place the solutions we need.”
SAP also bets on partnerships: Our company is a founding member of IMPACT 2030 and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.
Gore said that when the U.S. government announced it would leave the Paris Agreement, political and business leaders, states, cities, etc. doubled their efforts the next day, saying “We are still there!” SAP also belongs to the companies that are strongly committed to climate action. We plan to be carbon neutral by 2025.
According to Gore, there are more reasons for hope: Technology becomes better and cheaper all the time, known as “cost down curve.” The gadgets can now be run with wind or solar energy, efficiency is much better. “The forth industrial revolution is also a sustainability revolution,” Gore said. Technology is key to meeting the sustainable development goals.
This was also consensus in the panel discussion “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Technology-Driven, Human-Centred”: The panelists emphasized the opportunities technology brings, be it artificial intelligence (AI) to improve working conditions or mobile phones in India which enable everyone to play their part in the economy (e.g. have a bank account), even those who were formerly excluded. For girls in Africa, IT and coding skills bear the hope for a better life.
My personal take is that we have it in our hands to make sure that the opportunities that technology offers us outweigh the risks. To help drive awareness around the SDGs and showcase examples of how IT can help contribute to them, SAP has published an interactive web book and iPad app as well as a free online course on openSAP “Sustainability through Digital Transformation.”
The tenor of most speeches and discussions I witnessed at the summit, was “there is no planet B” but also “together we can make it,” meaning that government, public, and private sector organizations need to cooperate to tackle the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With partnerships and cooperation, they have the power to create positive economic, social, and environmental value through technology, solutions, and skills.
World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab described the summit’s intention: “What is needed is a true agenda for global public-private cooperation, with the objective not to defend individual interests, but to keep the destiny of humankind as a whole in mind.”
As a result of the summit, several major new initiatives that will advance public-private cooperation on the global goals were announced or launched, including:
- Global Battery Alliance to clean up global battery supply chains
- National Task Force to Close the Skills Gap in South Africa.
- Fourth Industrial Revolution for the Earth, a public-private initiative to identify, fund and scale new ventures that harness technologies for the environment.
- Fourth-Sector Development Initiative to grow the ecosystem of “for-benefit” enterprises
- Global Alliance on Closing the Gender Gap
- Disaster Risk Innovation Fund by the GSMA and UK Department for International Development (DFID) to test and scale innovations using mobile technologies to help people in humanitarian emergencies
These initiatives show the will to cooperate and the readiness to act of leaders from all over the world – let us all have a part in tackling the biggest challenges of the planet!
Daniel Schmid is chief sustainability officer of SAP SE
*The Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 was awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and former US Vice President Al Gore for their efforts to obtain and disseminate information about the climate challenge. In Gore’s case the award was grounded in his tireless campaign to put the climate crisis on the political agenda.