Davos 2024: Exploring the impact across four key themes of growth, artificial intelligence (AI), climate, nature and energy, and peace and security. | Image: Photo by Shubham Dhage on Unsplash

WEF – Davos 2024 Heres the impact on ground across AI climate growth and global security.webp

Pooja Chhabria
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
Sophia Akram
Writer, Forum Agenda
This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

  • Four themes dominated the talks at Davos 2024, which took place between 15 and 19 January: growth, artificial intelligence (AI), climate, nature and energy, and peace and security.
  • All four themes have interwoven risks and opportunities with an underlying understanding that communities worldwide must be involved in decision-making and policy implementation when advancing and deploying solutions.
  • Here’s how the Meeting served as a platform to rebuild a basis of trust, generate new ideas and develop partnerships that can improve outcomes for people, economies and the planet.

Davos 2024, the recently concluded Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, cut across four ambitious themes dominating today’s global landscape: Achieving Security and Cooperation in a Fractured WorldCreating Growth and Jobs for a New EraArtificial Intelligence as a Driving Force for the Economy and Society and A Long-Term Strategy for Climate, Nature and Energy.

Nearly 3,000 policy-makers, business executives, international organizations, civil society leaders, academics and innovators convened “against its most complicated geopolitical backdrop to date,” as President Borge Brende described at the beginning of the year.

Over the week, the Forum and its partners also launched or advanced more than 50 high-impact initiatives, serving as ongoing platforms for multi-year collaboration across geographies and industries.

Here’s how the Meeting served as a platform to rebuild a basis of trust, generate new ideas and develop partnerships that can improve outcomes for people, economies and the planet:

Security and cooperation

Rocky global peace, security and cooperation in 2023 will spill over into 2024 with evidential implications for trade, growth, climate action and advanced technological development. World leaders called for rebuilding trust in the face of this increasing fragmentation.

“Geopolitical divides are preventing us from coming together around global solutions for global challenges,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres,

The Forum’s new Global Cooperation Barometer showed that global cooperation has been resilient for much of the past decade, particularly in the areas of trade and capital, innovation and technology, and climate and natural capital, but has been pulled down by a sharp decline in cooperation on peace and security.

Ajay S. Banga, President of the World Bank Group, emphasized the interconnectedness of crises; “We cannot think about eradicating poverty without caring about climate. We cannot think about eradicating poverty without thinking about healthcare. We cannot think about eradicating poverty without thinking about food insecurity and fragility.”

A new white paper offered diverse ideas on what global cooperation can look like in a fragmenting world.

The Middle East and Ukraine came into sharp focus, including what happens after war and the international community’s role. As did the North-South schism. “We cannot address inequality by just mitigating crises, but rather we need to integrate, to involve developing countries like Africa from the beginning,” said Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

The Humanitarian and Resilience Investing initiative announced over 50 commitments that will boost impact investment and could unlock over $15 billion, with new collaborations driving purpose-driven investment in frontier markets.

The Forum also announced it will hold a special meeting, hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on “Global Cooperation, Growth and Energy for Development” on 28-29 April 2024 in Riyadh.

Artificial intelligence

Government, business, and academic speakers considered how the rapid development of Generative AI (GenAI) could benefit society while mitigating the risks.

Its potential to solve aspirational problems can’t be ignored, as explored in the Expanding Universe of Generative Models, for instance, around health, agriculture and climate change. But we’re not there yet – scaling of large language models and a more deliberate effort are still needed if AI is to be the “great equalizer.”

Towards this end, the Schwab Foundation’s Global Alliance launched its Artificial Intelligence for Social Innovation initiative to allow faster and more responsible adoption of AI for impact, especially in the Global South. Equitable access to the technology was another top-of-mind concern, and the Forum’s AI Governance Alliance announced a new global effort to address the issue by improving data quality and availability across nations and adapting foundation models to suit local needs and challenges. Their three-part briefing paper series also tackles AI governance challenges to help shape responsible and inclusive practices.

Discussions also revolved around the use of the technology by nefarious actors as the technology gets intertwined with geopolitics and building resilience against rising cyber threats, as outlined in the Forum’s Global Cybersecurity Outlook 2024.

But it’s the impact on jobs that dominates many concerns. The International Monetary Fund noted recently that almost 40% of employment globally is exposed to AI. Sixty per cent of tasks still need human input, countered Sanofi’s managing director Paul Hudson during a session on Thinking through Augmentation: “AI plus human beats AI.”

Boosting productivity and employing advanced technologies remain the focus of the Global Lighthouse Network as it announced 21 Lighthouses and four Sustainability Lighthouses at the Meeting. A new Digital Healthcare Transformation Initiative will also accelerate public-private collaboration around digital health, data and artificial intelligence while four new centres across the Centre of the Fourth Industrial Revolution network, including in Germany and Viet Nam, will strengthen efforts around digital transformation and green growth.

Beyond AI, a new report on innovations in quantum computing shows us how to mitigate new, complex risks posed by emerging technologies.

Summing up the impact of AI sessions and launches across the week, Cathy Li, the Forum’s Head of AI, Data and Metaverse, told Radio Davos: “I’m really, really proud of the presence of all of the key AI voices. But, at the same time also the key debates and the outcomes as well.”

Beyond the full spectrum of latest breakthroughs, industry and job transformation, geopolitical implications and regulation concerns, she said Davos also covered another important aspect of AI: “Access to AI models and data and applications and how do we ensure that we don’t further exacerbate the digital divide that’s been existing for a long time?”

Climate, nature and energy

Environmental risks continue to dominate the risks landscape over all three time frames addressed in the Global Risks Report 2024. At Davos 2024, global leaders and activists focused their discussions on driving energy efficiencies and addressing energy demand while protecting and restoring nature.

“We know exactly what we ought to be doing to slow down and eventually reverse climate change and loss of biodiversity,” said Jane Goodall, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and United Nations Messenger of Peace. “If only various countries lived up to promises they made about reducing emissions.”

The Giving to Amplify Earth Action (GAEA) initiative announced new commitments to unlock billions of dollars to finance climate and nature solutions, while the Global Commission on Nature-Positive Cities presented new guidelines for rehabilitating nature in the urban context. The week also saw the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) welcoming Colombia, the Philippines and Zambia, bringing the network of national action partnerships to 15.

The critical need for energy efficiency was central to conversations about a carbon-neutral and nature-positive world. “It’s a no-brainer. But we have not seen enough policy attention on energy efficiency,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, opined.

The Forum’s Transforming Energy Demand report outlines actions for businesses and countries to enhance energy management, efficiency and carbon-intensity reduction. On the ground, the new Network to Mobilize Clean Energy Investment for the Global South was launched to provide a platform for developing economies to raise awareness about their clean energy needs, share best practices and sustainably accelerate their energy transitions.

Other pivotal economies, such as France, China and the US, joined the Transitioning Industrial Clusters initiative to drive economic growth, employment and the energy transition.

Centring communities, however, will be vital for effective responses as efforts will be faster if we “do deep community engagement before we rush in and try to do something that’s going to be opposed,” as Jen Morris, chief executive officer at the Nature Conservancy said when considering if we can triple renewables by 2030. The need for inclusivity repeatedly appeared in Global North and South contexts, with participants agreeing that net zero in energy, transport, agriculture, housing, and infrastructure can’t happen without it.

“Developed countries have to assist in the financing of climate action in the developing countries because if we don’t do that, this inequality will only grow and you will have winners and you will have losers,” said Luc Triangle, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation – a financial burden that amounts to $1 billion climate disaster every week.

Regional insights released during the week included a roadmap for green hydrogen adoption in India and a shared aspirations statement from the ASEAN Leaders for Just Energy Transition. A new report also quantified the effect of climate change on human health.

Leaders also speak of leveraging technology as a crucial part of climate adaptation, with positive implementation already seen through AI-based early warning systems, supply chain optimization, and agricultural forecasting applications. The Forum’s open innovation platform, Uplink, announced it has raised CHF 37 million ($43 million) through 2027 to help early-stage impact entrepreneurs scale their people- and planet-focused ventures.

Reflecting on the week for Radio Davos, Jack Hurd, who is the Forum’s Co-Head of the nature pillar within the Centre for Nature and Climate, said Davos saw the continuation of conversations from COP28 in Dubai.

“The thing that’s been most powerful is the discussion of money, the financing for things that need to be done under nature and climate. We had a plenary session for the Centre for Nature and Climate, with Ajay Banga, President of the World Bank, and Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the IMF.

“You had these two big global organizations talking specifically about how they need to change and alter their strategies to start driving resources to a low emission future, the conservation and protection of nature, and adaptation to climate change. That’s a really important thing because that doesn’t often happen.”

Economic growth and trade

This year’s Meeting saw participants deliberate on the findings of the Global Risks Report 2024, which warned of the risks that could pose future economic shocks and the latest Chief Economists Outlook, which revealed a global economy fraught with uncertainty as well as potential bright spots; two-thirds of economists surveyed said industrial policies may be successful in reviving growth, while generative AI was seen to increase productivity and innovation.

A case was made for a new growth model, that balances the drivers of growth and productivity with the complexity of innovation, inclusion, sustainability and resilience.

The Future of Growth Initiative is a two-year campaign to help policy-makers and economists exchange new ideas and best practices for achieving this balance, supported by the Future of Growth Report 2024 that presents a multidimensional framework to balance GDP with innovation, resilience, sustainability and inclusion.

At the Meeting, more than 20 trade, finance and environment ministers came together through the Coalition of Trade Ministers on Climate to identify a common agenda for sustainable growth within and across economies.

Critical factors, such as closing the gender gap and strengthening the social sector, were discussed throughout the week. Levelling policies and retraining are key, participants agreed, especially for the future workforce.

In terms of impact, the Forum’s Reskilling Revolution initiative announced that it reached more than 680 million people with opportunities for improving skills, jobs and education and the Refugee Employment Alliance has hired over 54,000 refugees globally in the last two years and aligned on pathways to deliver on the commitment to hire 125,000 additional refugees by the end of 2027.

The Good Work Alliance, a coalition of businesses across 15 industries, is setting ambitious targets to provide good working conditions to about 2.5 million workers. The Gender Parity Sprint, a new coalition of business, international organizations and government leaders, is committing to accelerating economic parity by 2030 within their leadership, supply chains and wider communities.

Tensions impacting global trade and growth were also central to the discussion, with several new initiatives combating challenges: the TradeTech Global initiative outlined a vision for the collaborative use of technology for global commerce to unlock trillions in trade. At the same time, the Forum launched new trade-facilitating initiatives, including a project aimed at streamlining regional trade in East Africa and a project to measure trade efficiency in El Salvador.

Throughout the sessions and across themes, overlapping ideas and cross-cutting concerns demonstrated that the challenges impacting one pillar could have reverberating impacts across others and that our collective security and prosperity are tied to each other. For more key moments from the week of the Annual Meeting, click here.

Saadia Zahidi, Forum Managing Director and Head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society, told Radio Davos her highlights from the Annual Meeting were the discussions and reports released on the economic outlook, risks and human capital and the future of jobs.

“We know jobs are going to get disrupted. Our data, a lot of other data that was presented here, showed that. But there’s an opportunity for both automation as well as augmentation. And so how do we actually create the right incentives for augmentation and for augmentation to be done. Well, especially in an age of AI? There’s a lot to unpack there.

“So this is not only about protecting certain jobs. This is about trying to figure out how do we get people to work alongside technology in very different ways than they have in the past, and that can only be good for all of us, because it’s going to improve our productivity and perhaps make all of us a lot richer in terms of the leisure time that we have.”

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