As heads of states and governments, business leaders and civil society from across the world gathered in Davos for the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting at the end of January, sustainability – including climate emergency – topped the agenda like never before.
An urgent wake-up call, climate activist Greta Thunberg’s speech marked a stark change from the tone of previous Davos meetings. But climate emergency permeated this year’s meeting beyond keynote speeches, with WEF’s annual Global Risk Report attributing all long-term global risks to sustainability threats for the first time in the history of the report.
The IPCC estimates an 800 Gt CO2 carbon budget for this century if we are to prevent warming above 1.5°C. But producing materials alone will blow us way off the carbon budget with 900 Gt of CO2 emissions. Savings we can make with energy efficiency and net-zero energy will only bring this figure down to 648 Gt. Even if we achieve 100% net-zero energy by 2050, emissions will far exceed our available carbon budget of 300 Gt of CO2. With resource consumption set to double by 2050, we need to drastically rethink our entire economic model if we are to meet the 1.5°C climate target and time is running out.
Davos 2020 showed that more than ever, global leaders and businesses understand that our current “take-make-dispose” model – largescale manufacturing and short consumption cycles – is pushing us closer to the breaking point. But despite this, our world is still only 9% circular. 91% of fossil fuels, minerals, metals and biomass that enter the economy are not re-used. To make good on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement we need to move to a circular economic model now.