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Three headlines from the Davos of our dreams

John Markus Lervik, CEO and co-founder of Cognite, reflects on this month’s big event that wasn’t:

For the second year in a row, the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, was canceled. 

You may be thinking “Good riddance!” Sure—it’s easy to joke about Davos and how it’s nothing but VIPs jetting into a resort town, spouting their supposed wisdom about the future, and taking off. 

If you’re not a world leader or the head of a Fortune 100 company, however, I’d argue there’s a lot you can get out of a trip to Davos. The opportunities for interesting conversations are endless. (Besides, who wouldn’t welcome a chance to reconnect with people you might not have seen since before the pandemic?)

There are still plenty of virtual sessions on the agenda, but as we’ve learned over the past two years, going all-virtual isn’t a perfect replacement for the real thing. You can’t save the world on Zoom.

Let’s conduct a thought experiment. If Davos were still happening this week, here are the headlines I’d hope to see emerge from the Alpine town:

China, India, US detail three-year emissions cuts plans

When I attended Davos in 2020, I was struck by how company leaders were expanding the idea of sustainability to include not just emissions cuts but also treating their employees fairly and giving back to their communities.

In 2020, we got holistic. In 2022, we need to get specific.

The world’s top polluters—the US, China, and India—have pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, 2060, and 2070, respectively. But how do they get there?

At this imaginary Davos, world leaders aren’t bringing pledges, but plans. Instead of telling us where they want to be in decades, they’ll show us what they’re doing in the next few years. Detailed plans about where and how much they’re cutting create accountability and expectations, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

This year’s hottest Davos tech swag: Proof

Earlier this month, CES dazzled us with color-changing cars, blazingly fast processors, and TVs the size of dinner tables.

In comparison, our imaginary Davos is light on flash but heavy on substance. 

Once again, big tech companies have set up shop along the Promenade outside of the Davos Congress Centre, but this year they’re handing out more than snacks and lip balm. They’re handing out proof that their technology is doing what they’ve always claimed.

Leaders of major industrial companies are doing the same, aggressively one-upping one another with stories about how technology helped them produce more renewable energy and make targeted emissions cuts.

There’s still plenty of hype to go around, but, this year, claims about what technology can do is being met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Two words keep echoing through the Landwasser Valley: “Prove it.”

Green finance goes global: Push for worldwide investment standards expands

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, steps up to the pretend podium at Davos to tout the progress on the European Green Deal. In her speech, she talks about expanding the union’s work on sustainable investment guidelines. 

Yi Gang, the governor of the People’s Bank of China, echoes von der Leyen’s words, announcing next steps in the project to find common ground between the two economies’ standards. 

Not one to let Europe and China steal the spotlight (and looking to bolster his climate credentials ahead of the congressional midterm elections this fall), US President Joe Biden speaks warmly about the progress he’s seeing in the field of sustainable finance. He leaves the door open to the US working more closely with other countries on the topic. 

What all the jargon actually means: The green finance movement is gaining momentum. More countries around the world are joining the push to decide what should—and shouldn’t—be considered environmentally sustainable investments. And the pressure is growing on the countries that so far haven’t gotten involved.

Of course, none of these headlines covers the amazing progress seen in fields such as automation, biodiversity, cybersecurity, the employee experience, and more. As world leaders depart (still on private jets—some things never change) it’s almost enough to make you think that the event is better than its reputation…

Will I see you in Davos next year?

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