The World Economic Forum is so green this year it could be mistaken for a naturalists' convention.

Beneath the Magic Mountain of Davos, the main floor of its sweeping Congress Centre features a tented sculpture made of seaweed, to showcase natural materials; a large apple tree grafted from 40 different species; and display tables of artisanal work that used to be consigned to museums by Davos-style globalization. The marquee speaking slots once reserved for Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmidt are now the property of Greta Thunberg and Jane Goodall. And the small backpacks given to delegates are made of recycled cloth. Even the caterers are encouraged to serve local foods and wines, and adhere to a full day of vegetarian menus this week.

Don’t worry, the WEF hasn’t gone all hippie. It’s just trying to address the biggest risks in business, which are pretty much all related to climate change and the environment. For the first time, the Forum’s Global Risks Report is dominated by them, with the top five spots of likely risks going to environmental issues (extreme weather, climate action failure, natural disaster, biodiversity loss and human-made environmental disasters) – and topping the list for impact, ahead of nuclear war.

Beyond displays of seaweed, the Forum is pushing the world’s top corporations and governments here to pursue a Net Zero strategy, meaning they’d pull as much carbon out of the atmosphere as they put into it. Its new paper, “The Net Zero Challenge: Fast Forward to Decisive Climate Action,” makes the case for unilateral action for countries and companies because the chances of a global or even multilateral solution are dimming by the year.

Some key points:

  • Few countries are on course to meet their Paris targets
  • Few countries have a credible plan to get to Net Zero emissions
  • Companies and sectors need to chart their own course to Net Zero, and should do so for self-serving reasons: to drive efficiencies, force innovation, earn the social license to operate in communities concerned about climate change, and stay ahead of the demands of regulators and investors

There are plenty of companies at Davos that argue they’re ahead of governments on climate action. Microsoft last week declared it will be carbon negative by 2030. Unilever, Levi’s and IKEA are among those with ambitious plans that aren’t relying on government action, as are major Canadian energy producers Suncor, Cenovus and Canadian Natural Resources, which have each stated a Net Zero goal or released significant emission reduction plans. “While no single actor can halt global warming alone, efforts by leading industrial nations or large corporations can have a multiplier effect,” the WEF report notes.

John Stackhouse is a nationally bestselling author and one of Canada’s leading voices on innovation and economic disruption. He is senior vice-president in the Office of the CEO at Royal Bank of Canada, leading the organization’s research and thought leadership on economic, technological and social change. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail and editor of Report on Business. He is a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and sits on the boards of Queen’s University, the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada and the Literary Review of Canada. His latest book, "Planet Canada: How Our Expats Are Shaping the Future", explores the untapped resource of the millions of Canadians who don’t live here but exert their influence from afar.

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