World Energy Forum Essay Competition 2012 Election

The Fifth World Future Energy Summit (WFES) 2012 took place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), from Monday, 16 to Thursday, 19 January 2012, hosted by Masdar. WFES was attended by over 25,000 participants, including 3,000 summit delegates from 148 countries, three heads of state, ministers, the UN Secretary-General, heads of intergovernmental agencies, and over 700 exhibitors.

The Summit was convened around a high-level segment focusing on policy and strategy, and three forums on: business and policy; technology and innovation; and finance and regulation. Issues considered by WFES participants included: wind power; solar power; natural gas; energy efficiency; cities; transportation; China; rural development; and capacity building; technology; energy storage; energy-smart infrastructures; carbon capture and storage (CCS); bioenergy; nuclear power; regulations and trade; venture capital; and innovation on financial products for sustainable energy.

In addition to the Summit sessions, WFES 2012 included an exhibition, the Project Village, roundtable discussions, Innovate @ WFES, the Young Future Energy Leaders programme, corporate meetings and social events. Many WFES participants attended the award ceremony for the Zayed Future Energy Prize for long-term vision and leadership in renewable energy and sustainability, which was awarded to Schneider Electric, Ashok Gadgil, and the Carbon Disclosure Project.

The following report contains a summary of the WFES sessions, as well as a sample of the side events. Summaries of the plenary sessions are grouped in chronological order, followed by summaries of the parallel sessions and side events. More detailed information and photographs can be found at:


Renewable energy is an essential element for addressing energy security, economic recovery, climate change, and poverty reduction. Therefore, there is a growing international dialogue on the need to scale-up sustainable and renewable energy both regionally and globally. Since the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, various UN and international organizations and agencies have been active on these issues, and numerous related international conferences and fora have convened, as summarized below.


Since its inception in 2008, WFES has evolved as the world’s foremost annual meeting for the renewable energy and environment industry. Abu Dhabi, UAE, has hosted WFES annually to promote innovation and investment opportunities surrounding renewable energy and environment. WFES brings together project owners and solution providers with investors and buyers from both the public and private sectors. Held from 17-20 January 2011, the fourth WFES brought together 26,391 attendees from 137 countries.


The international community’s first major attempt to develop a strategy for the use of alternative fuels was the 1981 Resolution by the 36th UN General Assembly (UNGA 36) (A/RES/36/193) on the outcomes of the UN Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy which had convened in Nairobi, Kenya in August 1981). UNCED, which met in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, then adopted Agenda 21, an action plan for implementing sustainable development. Agenda 21 addresses sustainable energy in Chapter 9, which notes the increasing need to rely on environmentally-sound energy systems, particularly new and renewable sources of energy.

In April 2001, in New York, US, the ninth session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD 9) adopted Decision (E/CN.17/2001/19) on “Energy for Sustainable Development,” addressing issues such as the role of the private sector, research and development, institutional capacities, financial support, energy accessibility, and rural energy. IISD Reporting Service’s (RS) coverage of CSD 9 can be found at:

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), held in August-September 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa, adopted the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI), which addresses renewable energy in several of its chapters, including on poverty eradication (Chapter II), sustainable consumption and production patterns (Chapter III), small island developing states (Chapter VII), and Africa (Chapter VIII). IISD RS coverage of WSSD can be found at:

Held in New York, US, in May 2007, CSD 15 addressed energy issues, although delegates did not reach consensus on any decisions. IISD RS coverage of CSD 15 can be found at:

In December 2010, UNGA 65 adopted Resolution 65/151 proclaiming 2012 as the International Year for Sustainable Energy for All.


At the WSSD, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder invited the international community to a Conference on Renewable Energy. The International Renewable Energy Conference (IREC), “Renewables 2004,” took place from 1-4 June 2004, in Bonn, Germany, and launched the series of IREC meetings. The conference led to the creation of the Renewable Energy Network for the 21st Century (REN21). IISD RS coverage of Renewables 2004 can be found at:

The Beijing International Renewable Energy Conference (BIREC), hosted by China in November 2005, adopted the Beijing Declaration. The Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC) convened from 4-6 March 2008, in Washington DC, US, and resulted in the Washington International Action Programme, comprising over 100 pledges by countries and organizations. IISD RS coverage of WIREC 2008 can be found at

The Delhi International Renewable Energy Conference (DIREC 2010) took place from 27-29 October 2010, in New Delhi, India, and concluded with the DIREC Declaration and 30 new pledges by governments and civil society under the Delhi International Action Programme. IISD RS coverage of DIREC 2010 can be found at The next IREC, Abu Dhabi Renewable Energy Conference (ABIREC), is scheduled to take place in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in January 2013, alongside WFES 2013.


The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) was established on 26 January 2009. IRENA’s statute entered into force on 8 July 2010. As of January 2012, 148 countries and the European Union (EU) are signatories of IRENA, with 84 states and the EU having ratified its statute. The first session of the IRENA Assembly was held from 4-5 April 2011, in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and was attended by over 50 ministers. IISD RS coverage of the first Assembly can be found at:

The second session of the IRENA Assembly took place from 14-15 January 2012 in Abu Dhabi, UAE, attended by over 750 delegates from 74 member states, 50 signatories and accession states, 13 other non-member states, and 70 observer organizations. The meeting resulted in strengthening IRENA’s institutional structure, and an expansion of its budget for 2012. IISD RS coverage of the second Assembly can be found at:



The opening ceremony took place on Monday, followed by plenary ministerial panels in the afternoon. Plenary sessions were held on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday morning. The closing ceremony was held on Thursday afternoon.


Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO, Masdar, opened the Summit. Describing the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) as a platform for sharing experience and vision, Al Jaber offered examples of innovation and growth in the renewable energy sector, including increases in wind power, greater solar capacity, and cost reductions accompanied by technology improvements. He noted that, despite budgetary cuts due to the global financial crisis, the renewable energy industry and green economies are important contributors to economic activity and growth. He highlighted the importance of regulatory frameworks to improve the efficiency of renewable energy technologies and reduce their costs, adding that renewable energy makes strategic sense.

Wen Jiabao, Premier, China, stressed the historic connection between harnessing energy and human progress. He explained China’s efforts to drive sustainable economic development, including: reducing greenhouse gas emissions despite already lower emissions per capita than developed countries; reducing energy consumption across several sectors; creating new jobs; developing and installing clean and efficient energy facilities; launching national energy conservation projects; and advocating low-carbon lifestyles. He said that China’s energy consumption per unit of GDP fell by about 20% between 2005 and 2010, and there are plans to cut energy and carbon intensities by 16% and 17%, respectively, between 2010 and 2015. Wen said China plans to gradually increase the contribution of renewable and nuclear energy. He said that China would continue to strengthen exchanges and cooperation with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Kim Hwang-sik, Prime Minister, Republic of Korea, described Korea’s low-carbon, green growth strategy. He underscored that Korea invests 2% of its GDP annually in green technologies and aims to become the world’s fifth-largest producer of green energy by 2030. He emphasized accelerating the worldwide spread of renewable energy and the replacement of fossil fuels. He commended the role of IRENA in promoting renewable energy technology and said Korea will continue to work with the UAE to further promote the use of renewable energy.

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President, UN General Assembly, highlighted the UN 2012 International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. He described providing low-cost energy as a tool to limit poverty, increase welfare, improve quality of life, and realize sustainable development. He encouraged capacity building and technology transfer for limiting greenhouse gas emissions and combatting climate change. He identified the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD or Rio+20) meetings as an opportunity to promote the use of clean and renewable energy to create a more peaceful, sustainable world.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed the need to end energy poverty to ensure equal opportunities. He underscored the need for universal energy access and innovation to scale-up clean energy and energy efficient technologies. He stressed reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy efficiency. He described Rio+20 as the beginning of a multi-year mission to achieve sustainable energy for all, and called for a new energy future that harnesses the power of technology and innovation in the service of people and the planet.

Bertrand Piccard, President, Solar Impulse, highlighted the flight of a manned solar airplane over a day-night cycle requiring no fossil fuel. He said the goal was to create a revolution in the way people think about renewable energy. He underscored that innovation and clean technologies are profitable and create jobs. Piccard noted that while renewable energy has a higher price, it has a lower cost than fossil fuels because the price of fossil fuels does not include their environmental or geopolitical costs. He stressed that political courage is needed to create regulatory frameworks that minimize energy waste.

Aiden Dwyer, a 14-year-old American innovator, shared that when he learned tree branch growth followed the Fibonacci Sequence, a common pattern in nature, he applied this concept to improving the efficiency of solar panels.


Ministerial-level panels were held on Monday afternoon.

Ministers’ Panel on Sustainable Energy for All: Kandeh Yumkella, Director-General, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) moderated this panel.

Ban Ki-moon and Kandeh Yumkella discussed energy access. Ban Ki-moon underlined that energy is a key tool to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and lamented that large portions of the world still lack decent and reasonable access to energy. Underlining linkages between energy poverty and achieving the MDGs, Ban Ki-moon announced his energy access initiative targets for 2030: providing universal energy access; doubling energy efficiency; and 30% energy from renewable sources.

Farooq Abdullah, Minister of New and Renewable Energy, India, said his ministry is using renewable energy in villages to provide jobs in rural areas to slow migration into urban areas. He noted that his country is creating a stable environment to promote private investment in renewables to provide the energy India needs to sustain its growth.

Adnan Amin, Director-General, IRENA, noted that although the targets of the UN Secretary-General’s 2030 Initiative seem ambitious, significant cost reductions in technologies like solar photovoltaics (PV) have made renewables cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Amin highlighted developing countries, including Senegal and South Africa, which are proactively adopting renewable energy. He described initiatives where countries are positioning themselves for transitions in the global energy system, including the UAE’s focus on renewables and sustainable cities, and Japan’s investment in research and development to reduce transmission line losses and boost energy storage technology.

Maria van der Hoeven, Executive Director, International Energy Agency (IEA), explained that IEA gathers and translates information into practical solutions. She identified funding and political will as crucial for removing barriers to universal energy access. She added that IEA provides the building blocks to determine effective policies and solutions for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and, increasingly, non-OECD countries. She also encouraged the implementation of geographically-relevant green technologies, and underscored the need for both large companies and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to finance energy solutions.

Andrew Steer, Special Envoy for Climate Change, World Bank, emphasized the need to triple the present level of financing for renewable energy. He said that large investors are seeking opportunities with low risks and “decent” returns. He described the importance of injecting public money strategically and into projects to attract larger private investment. He added that countries must learn from one another to establish an appropriate balance of political power, financial muscle, and technical expertise.

Charles Holliday, Chairman, Bank of America, stressed the role of the private sector in sustainable energy. He identified market opportunities for the next decade, including: electrical and mechanical engineering; sustainable natural resource use; and turning data into information for communication to the public. He said banks are interested in taking calculated risks, particularly in partnership with international agencies.

Ministers’ Panel on Action towards Universal Energy Access: Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) moderated this panel. Clark said that many countries without universal access to energy have good strategies and plans, but business as usual is not sufficient; she instead called for “business unusual.”

Daniel Johansson, Vice-Minister of Energy, Sweden, emphasized that sustainable energy is a moral and political question related to democracy. He described Swedish-funded energy projects, including installation of solar panels in households in Mozambique and Bangladesh. He also called attention to local, functional solutions, and noted the importance of maintenance services throughout the equipment’s lifecycle.

Carlos Pascual, Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs, US, stressed the importance of creating an environment that attracts investors and stimulates private, commercial activities. For grid solutions, he said countries need to create a policy environment that allows the electricity sector to be run as a business. He said that the poor often pay the highest price for electricity, noting this as a business opportunity for the renewable sector.

Andris Piebalgs, Commissioner for Development, European Commission, stressed the importance of universal access to sustainable and renewable energy. He added that developed countries have relied heavily on energy from fossil fuels, a mistake that developing countries can bypass by creating sustainable energy goals from scratch, which would grant them a competitive advantage. Describing 2030 as a realistic deadline, he encouraged governments to develop comprehensive policies for universal energy access.

Alex Salmond, First Minister, Scotland, noted the importance of: investing in grid technology to decrease transmission losses over long distances; narrowing the gap between technological breakthroughs and the broad use of these technologies; and facilitating access for those who lack or cannot afford energy. He described certain islands on the west coast of Scotland that have become entirely energy self-sufficient with micro-hydropower, a notion that may be applicable to numerous developing countries with significant marine resources.

Mitsuyoshi Yanagisawa, Vice Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Japan, said steady progress has been made in Japan’s recovery efforts following the 2011 earthquake and Fukushima disaster. He underlined that Japan is reconsidering its energy policy “from scratch” to incorporate more renewables. He said Japan intends to share its state-of-the art technologies with the international community in appreciation of their generous support in the earthquake’s aftermath.

In a keynote address, Bjørn Lomborg, Copenhagen Consensus Center, said that the current focus on fossil fuel subsidies is not sustainable, and global warming, green jobs, and energy security have all been misrepresented. Lomborg recommended focusing on innovation that will lead to technology breakthroughs.

Ministers’ Panel on the Role of Government Institutions in Accelerating the Transition to a Global Clean Energy Economy: This panel was moderated by Achim Steiner, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

José María Figueres, former president, Costa Rica, said governments must focus their efforts on tackling poverty and climate change over this decade. He added that governments should take the lead by harvesting “low-hanging fruit” such as demand-side management; reversing bad policies such as perverse subsidies on fossil fuels; and sending signals to industry by reducing taxes on green technology.

Jordy Herrera, Minister of Energy, Mexico, described a government programme to reduce domestic energy consumption in Mexico by swapping inefficient home appliances for new energy-efficient appliances, noting that this change also saves the government money in energy subsidies.

Lord Howell of Guildford, Minister of State, UK, noted that the world’s energy situation has changed significantly over the last 30 years. He highlighted the UK’s investment in low-carbon technology, including £2.5 billion in renewable energy research, incentivizing efficient home energy consumption and development, and planning for an additional 16 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear capacity by 2025 that would provide 30,000 jobs. He said governments have the responsibility to provide an environment that promotes clean technologies.

S. Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore, highlighted the importance of balancing and integrating public policy, government research, and private sector initiatives to achieve energy goals. He noted that Singapore has: liberalized its electricity market; used price as a clear signal of the cost of energy to the consumer; offered targeted assistance to low-income households; avoided subsidizing consumption; worked with the petro-chemical sector to reduce its carbon footprint; and cultivated itself as a test bed for research, development, and new energy ideas.

David Sandalow, Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs, US, used the example of refrigerators being four times more efficient now than in the 1970's to demonstrate the importance of standard-setting and government regulation. He added that because energy transitions take time, visionary leaders willing to chart a new course are crucial for achieving clean energy initiatives.

Georg Schütte, State Secretary, Germany, described Germany’s energy revolution and long-term perspective on research and innovation. He said Germany aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80-90% from 1990 levels by 2050, while simultaneously transforming its energy supply system to increase renewable energy generation to 80% by 2050. He stressed that Germany hopes to be the first modern advanced economy to reinvent itself as a green society.

Walter Steinmann, State Secretary for Energy, Switzerland, stressed the importance of clear, ambitious targets, compromise and consultation. He explained that Switzerland encourages citizens, municipalities, and cities to make progress at the local level every year, and said one of slogans driving change in Switzerland is “you have to do more every year.”


This session took place on Tuesday morning. In his keynote address, Fatih Birol, IEA, underlined that the global financial crisis and Fukushima nuclear disaster have affected government energy policies and demoted climate change on the political agenda. He said that trajectories plot a 6°C change in climate, and that immediate action and urgent investment in clean energy are needed.

Panelists agreed on the need to continue investing in emerging markets, with Tulsi Tanti, Chairman of Suzlon, saying this can transform obstacles into opportunity. Juan Araluce, President, Vestas, and Frank Wouters, Director, Masdar Power, emphasized economies-of-scale and scalability. Bjørn Haugland, DNV, highlighted investments in research and development as companies transition from renewable pilot projects, and the importance of carbon capture and utilization. Steve Bolze, General Electric, said investments in new technologies will be critical in the longer-term, and that centralized generation for vast geographic areas may be possible, though expensive. Mark Carne, Shell, emphasized changing energy portfolios, pointing out that 2012 will be the first year that Shell produces more gas than oil. Noting the volatility of gas prices, Jim Brown, First Solar, said that supply stacks, including PV and renewable energy, could insulate the market from risk. Steve O’Rouke, Sun Edison, said addressing engineering issues is the next challenge for PV technology. Jean-Pascal Tricoire, President, Schneider Electric, emphasized the need for low-cost energy that communities without electricity can deploy and maintain.


This session took place on Tuesday morning. Keynote speaker Jacob Wallenberg, Chairman, Investor AB, Sweden, said businesses must accept they are not currently doing enough to contribute to sustainability. He underscored the need for strong incentives for innovation and risk-taking, and changes in investment mentality. He emphasized collaboration among academia, business, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), citing events such as WFES and projects such as Masdar as examples of such collaboration.

Keynote speaker Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said no limits exist to the potential for renewable sources of energy, including solar, geothermal, and hydropower, but that economies-of-scale are not yet well understood.

Adnan Amin, Director-General, IRENA, suggested governments create an environment that encourages private sector investment in renewables. Fatih Birol expressed concern about certain governments slowing support for renewable energy, and explained the importance of reducing fossil fuel subsidies. S. Vijay Iyer, World Bank, said governments can justify using renewable energies across numerous sectors, and encouraged applying funds to leverage the private sector. Jim Leape, Director-General, WWF International, stressed the importance of: renewable energy efficiency; using arguments beyond climate change to attract public action; and easing consumer access to renewable energy.

Mohamed El-Ashry, Chairman, REN21, emphasized increased research and development support, and public and private support for innovation to enter the marketplace. Marcel Engel, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, said business needs predictability, such as a predictable price for carbon, to scale-up. Timothy Wirth, President, UN Foundation, suggested incentives for energy-efficient appliances as an example of complementary approaches for sustainable energy and economic growth. Carlos Dora, World Health Organization, stressed complementarities in environment, energy, and health, saying people need to understand concrete benefits from change.


This session was held on Wednesday morning. In a keynote address, Alex Burns, CEO, Williams Formula One (F1), explained that the entrepreneurial and engineering culture of Williams F1, one of the world’s lead car-racing teams, delivers rapid and evolving solutions to complex technical challenges. He described how the flywheels that Williams F1 is developing for hybrid racing cars are being adapted to improve energy efficiency in public buses, sports cars, and metro trains.

Jason Pontin, Editor-in-Chief, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Technology Review, chaired the session. Panelists agreed that smart grids need to store and deliver high amounts of renewable energy. Jan Mrosik, Siemens, emphasized smart metering and smart response. Kazuo Furukawa, Chairman, New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), said energy storage remains a large gap. Santiago Arias, Torresol, emphasized that energy can be stored and converted according to environmental conditions and demand for electricity. Ben Kortlang, Amonix, described the challenges for clean technologies to be economically viable at a large scale without subsidies. Kathy Pepper, ExxonMobil, explained the potential for producing biofuels from algae. Bill Sims, CEO, Joule Unlimited, said his company’s engineered microorganisms represent a low-cost, fungible, and modular renewable fuel platform. Charles Soothill, Alstom Power, explained that a mixed renewable portfolio can address power generation intermittency, and underscored, among others: carbon capture and storage (CCS); transmission grids; and energy efficiency, storage, and density. Andrew Beebe, Suntech, proposed the development of a five-year roadmap for eliminating all energy subsidies.


Chris Hartshorn, Lux Research, moderated this session on Wednesday morning. He described the panel’s goal as identifying the benefits and challenges for entrepreneurs in the clean technology sphere.

Noting that favorable government policies are key for clean technology entrepreneurship to thrive, Eric McAfee, Chairman and CEO, Aemetis, called for strong regulatory frameworks to enable entrepreneurs to make short-term technology development commitments, and long-term financial commitments.

Jennifer Holmgren, CEO, LanzaTech, spoke on innovation to create a new energy future, explaining the importance of entrepreneurial companies in furthering clean technologies globally.

Stressing that clean energy is the greatest entrepreneurial opportunity of this generation, Steve Crane, CEO, LightSail Energy, welcomed non-traditional funding sources to provide capital to start-ups and entrepreneurs. He noted that obstacles to introducing renewables include numerous regulatory issues.

Christine Gulbranson, Symphony Equity Partners, described the energy innovation cycle, highlighting potential “valleys of death” in both technological development and commercialization phases, before moving into maturity and price competitiveness.

In the ensuing discussion, participants considered, among others, the: advantages of start-ups in managing early-stage innovation; capital-intensive nature of energy companies; influence of the regulatory environment; need to offer energy products that will help companies expand their markets; and value of an “accelerator” approach, enabling start-ups to access networks and strategic partnerships.


On Thursday morning, moderator Nathaniel Bullard, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, led a panel on the state of financing for renewables.

Keynote speaker Plutarchos Sakellaris, Vice-President, European Investment Bank, identified three instruments governments can use to attract technology investment: fixed price approaches, such as feed-in tariffs; market-based approaches, such as renewables certificates; and targeted approaches. He said the EU investment bank target is for 25% of overall lending to support climate action projects, a target exceeded in both 2010 and 2011. Noting that the biggest challenge facing the industry is technology risk, Ravi Suri, Standard Chartered Bank, called for better understanding of financing renewables by both the banking and insurance sectors.

Speaking on the opportunities for financing in the Middle East and North Africa, Ben Warren, Ernst & Young, stressed that for greater market growth, new sources of capital need to enter renewable energy financing, including pension funds.

Richenda Van Leeuwen, UN Foundation, highlighted a SME perspective on financing, describing opportunities for customers unable to fully finance renewables technology, and underscoring the potential for telecommunication companies to enter the market. Alex O’Cinneide, Director, Masdar Capital, with Jorge Ramos, Citigroup, stressed that financers would like to see consistent renewable energy policy rather than fluctuating government attitudes and inconsistency.


The closing plenary took place on Thursday afternoon, moderated by Richenda Van Leeuwen, UN Foundation. She stressed the need to keep energy at the top of the global agenda and reminded participants of Secretary-General’s Ban Ki-moon’s energy access for all initiative.

Rob Bradley, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UAE, described the UAE’s historic and ongoing leadership in environmental protection and conservation. He said that the UAE is working to move from being the second highest per capita emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) towards achieving green growth grounded in: energy efficiency standards; clean urbanization; increasing use of renewable energy; investing in public transportation and green jobs; carbon mitigation in aviation; incorporating environmental messaging into the educational system; and technology incubation and implementation in Masdar City and elsewhere.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, noted that energy contributes to climate change and is a major part of the solution. She said that an aggressive energy revolution is beginning, with record-breaking investment in renewable energy.  She stressed that the Durban climate change conference delivered beyond expectations, noting it demonstrated universal political will and increased ambition in the global climate regime in three ways: a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol that continues and validates its legally-binding framework; an increase from 10-15% to 80% of global emissions included under the Protocol; and an agreement among all countries to negotiate a legally-binding agreement.

Robert Swan, Voyage for Cleaner Energy, described his personal voyage in sustainability, and walking expeditions to both the North and South poles. He highlighted his work in promoting sustainability in rural areas, major climate conferences, and charting an annual mission to Antarctica with international youth. He said “the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”

Summit Director Fiona Watson announced that plans are underway for the 2013 WFES, which will run in tandem with an International Water Summit next year, supported by the International Water Association.


Parallel sessions took place on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon, and on Thursday morning into the early afternoon. In addition, on Wednesday afternoon, summit delegates were offered a networking visit of the exhibition.


Steve Sawyer, Secretary General, Global Wind Energy Council, chaired this session on Tuesday afternoon.

Luis Adão da Fonseca, EDP Renewables, stressed the importance of long-term regulatory frameworks to facilitate sustained growth in the sector. Iñigo Sabater Eizaguirre, Vestas, warned against viewing renewable energy solutions as a short-term goal, and emphasized robust partnerships to increase uptake of renewables.

Andrew Garrad, President, GL Garrad Hassan, noted that although there has been dramatic growth in wind energy in emerging markets, there was still more overall growth in OECD member countries than elsewhere.

Discussing the potential for shale gas and its effect on renewable investment, Eddie O’Connor, CEO, Mainstream Renewable Power, said that although shale gas has slowed renewables in the US, it is “a big, gigantic bubble” that will disappear. Aart Schreij, London Array, highlighted the interests of India, China, the UK, and Germany in offshore wind energy, noting that the associated costs will be reduced in the next decade.


Peter Sharratt, Deloitte LLP, moderated this session on Tuesday afternoon.

Mary Walsh, London Sustainable Development Commission, UK, highlighted initiatives on retrofitting London’s aging building stock to be energy efficient, using solid waste for district heating and cooling, and placing sustainability at the core of the 2012 Olympics planning.

Rex Parris, Mayor, Lancaster, California, lamented that cities are not sufficiently active. He said Lancaster is attempting to become the first NetZero city, and attributed its success to partnering with industry and creating a fertile environment for new technology adoption.

Alan Frost, Director, Masdar City, spoke on passive urban design principles to make Masdar City cooler and pedestrian-friendly, including: building orientation and design for maximizing shade, and harnessing natural wind corridors. He noted that Masdar City works with technology partners to implement clean technology solutions.

Rutu Dave, World Bank, highlighted that cities are both the causes and victims of climate change and called for a paradigm shift towards smart city planning. She highlighted the city-wide approach methodology developed by the World Bank to assist cities in reducing emissions and attracting green funds.


Chaired by Chris Hartshorn, Lux Research, on Tuesday afternoon, this session focused on China as a growing business partner, innovator, manufacturer, and market in the renewable sector. Andrew Beebe, Suntech, explained that other nations could look to China for guidance on making and meeting long-term energy goals. He praised China’s production capacity and capabilities. Steven ‘Mac’ Heller, Executive Chairman, CODA Automotive, said that China and the US must work together to reduce high fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. He noted China is the world’s largest car producer and consumer.

Mark Ma, China Construction Bank, said that China has large market opportunities and rising labor costs, and its economy will benefit from energy efficiency and energy savings. He said investors care about business models, management, and financial returns. Tom Zhao, BYD, said that China’s 12th five-year plan offered direction on increasing energy efficiency. He highlighted the importance of stabilizing the quality of renewable resources, and relationships between businesses and government.

Haiyun Sun, Trina Solar, elaborated on green growth as the focus of China’s new key performance indicator, the importance of globalizing innovation, and China’s tougher intellectual property laws. The ensuing discussion focused on Africa as a potential renewable energy market, and capital-raising opportunities in China.


This session was moderated by Ramon Baeza, Boston Consulting Group, on Tuesday afternoon. He asked speakers to consider how to fully realize energy efficiency gains.

Morten Mauritzen, Exxon Mobil, stressed the growth potential of renewables, projecting a 30% increase in demand from 2010-2040. Sascha Brozek, Siemens, highlighted intelligent design in buildings and construction. Pejman Norastehfar, Bayer MaterialScience, addressed sustainable production processes. Benoit Dubarle, Schneider Electric, recommended smart grids to optimize distribution among consumers. Frank Ackland, General Electric, supported the installation of household smart meters to modify consumer behavior.

Hiroshi Ogawa, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, described sustainable transportation design including electric vehicles as a key to efficiency, highlighting their use in Masdar City. Kornelis Blok, Utrecht University, recommended removing fuel subsidies, tightening efficiency standards to reflect state-of-the-art technology, and educating industry professionals on implementation.


During this Tuesday afternoon session, moderated by Ruud Weijermars, Delft University of Technology, panelists addressed topics including: competition between liquefied natural gas (LNG) and long distance pipeline gas; power generation competition between coal and gas; energy security in Europe; and Australia’s increasing role in LNG supply from offshore shale gas. Panelists emphasized the role of gas in a faster transition to renewables. Rob Gardner, ExxonMobil, explained that global energy demand will grow by 30% over the next 30 years and gas will grow by 60%, with much of this gas coming from unconventional supplies. Michael Ladwig, Alstom, added that renewables already contribute 20-30% of electricity production in some countries. Bernard Esselinckx, CEO, Al Suwadi Power Company, Ernie Moniz, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Gardner, agreed that substantial time is necessary to change energy infrastructure. Moniz recommended balancing electricity and natural gas infrastructures through high-level integration of regulatory systems. During a discussion on pipeline leakage, Evgeniy Nadezhdin, Russia Energy Agency, described the Russia Federation’s programme to decrease gas flaring by 95%, while Crispian McCredie, Alboran Energy Strategy Consultants, cautioned that such measures would not be possible for countries like Nigeria or Angola.


This session was held on Tuesday afternoon. Alain Flausch, Secretary General, International Association of Public Transport, moderated the session and said urban sprawl and increased private car ownership were driving up urban CO2 emissions and oil consumption.

Iwao Matsuoka, Institution for Transport Policy Studies, said that complete transport system solutions are needed to offer good alternative transport methods to the public, and not merely adding new technologies into existing systems.

Robert Olivier, Montreal Transport Company, underlined that transport is responsible for an increasing share of Quebec’s greenhouse gas emissions. He added that the province aims to have 95% of public transit trips be electric by 2030, and detailed the development of Montreal’s metro network.

Gunnar Heipp, Munich Public Transport Company, stressed that transit-oriented land-use planning is key to developing an effective low-carbon transportation system. He presented the Munich transport masterplan that requires urban planning to adhere to transportation plans.

Abdulrahman Al Shizawi, Abu Dhabi Department of Transport, noted long-term infrastructure plans for Abu Dhabi government vehicles and taxis to run on compressed natural gas, and to make provisions for multi-modal integrated public transit networks, intercity rail systems, and walking and cycling facilities.


This session, held on Tuesday afternoon, was moderated by Ralph Sims, Massey University. He described a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) initiative on energy-smart and climate-smart food systems to be launched in 2012.

Lamenting the percentage of the world using firewood as a primary energy source, Michael Kelly, World Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association, highlighted the benefits of transitioning to liquefied petroleum gas.

Darrin Morgan, Boeing, described an integrated seawater agriculture system that could produce food and green energy in non-arable lands. Trevor Demayo, Chevron, stressed the provision of affordable, economically-viable, culturally-appropriate, and proven sustainable technologies. Andre Zeijseink, KEMA, spoke on ensuring availability, affordability, reliability, portability, and sustainability of energy systems in rural areas. Jan Olaf Willums, Chairman, InSpire Group, described an initiative linking the declining cost of batteries with solar energy that benefits both local entrepreneurs and end-users.

Christine Eibs Singer, CEO, E+Co, explained her organization’s work to assist renewable energy entrepreneurs and provide long-term capacity building. Morgan Bazilian, UNIDO, noted the importance of both governments and the private sector in meeting the universal access to energy target.


Moderated by Fred Moavenzadeh, President, Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, this session took place on Tuesday afternoon and focused on the roles that education and research and development can play in transforming the UAE into a knowledge-based economy.

Keynote speaker Eesa Bastaki, CEO, Information and Communication Technology Fund, discussed building a robust research and development infrastructure, and creating a culture of research across academic, private, industry, and government sectors.

Rafic Makki, Abu Dhabi Education Council, described the knowledge-based economies of Singapore and South Korea, and the importance of improving elementary and high-school education to enhance and sustain higher education. Peter Heath, Chancellor, American University of Sharjah, explained that the UAE’s new economy will require financing the high cost of graduate education, and stressed the urgency of cultivating young Emiratis. Rory Hume, Provost, UAE University, underlined the importance of comprehensive primary and secondary education reform and of doctoral research and mentorship. Tod Laursen, President, Khalifa University, emphasized the role of human capital in creating a knowledge-based economy and the importance of academic mentorship in developing independent thinkers. Larry Wilson, Provost, Zayed University, underlined the need for visionary leadership and long-term resource commitment to create a new economy.


This parallel session on Wednesday afternoon was moderated by Eicke Weber, Chairman, Fraunhofer Institute, and shed light on emerging technologies and financial innovations in the solar energy system.

Highlighting China’s strength in the solar market as manufacturing cost-effective, affordable solar panels, Haiyun Sun, Trina Solar, explained that business and open minds are necessary for innovation in solar technology to be successful. Robert Seiter, Ernst & Young, noted that the solar technologies currently drawing the highest levels of investment are concentrated solar power (CSP), copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS), and concentrated photovoltaics (CPV). David Eaglesham, First Solar, highlighted drivers to increase photovoltaics (PV) penetration in the energy mix, including longer-term strategic partnerships between suppliers and grid operators, and plant energy output that is forecastable, controllable, and “smooth-ramping.”

Adrian Wood, Siemens, pointed out the challenges of getting the energy mix “right,” including the complexity of PV, CPV, and CSP systems, their costs, and the capacity of existing grids. He described his company’s commitment to meeting the universal energy access targets. Noting the decreasing costs of technologies and comparing the conditions for PV-uptake in the US, Germany, and Saudi Arabia, Rhone Resch, President, US Solar Energy Industries Association, urged countries in the Middle East to tap into solar energy on a larger scale.

Calling for a new business model for solar power, Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO, Eight19, described the IndiGo Pay-As-You-Go Solar Initiative, which merges mobile phone and solar technology to create low cost energy solutions for populations in East Africa. Paul van Son, CEO, Desertec, described three phases to link renewable energy production in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East to European markets in the next 25 years. Matteo Codazzi, CESI, presented on high CPV technology, noting its suitability for Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia.

Sami Khoreibi, CEO, Enviromena, informed participants that many countries in the Middle East are committed to a 7% or higher renewable energy target, including PV. Speaking on the future of PV and CSP, Daniel Calderon, Masdar Power, emphasized that PV has the capacity to “solve people’s problems” at lower costs than current alternatives in several locations around the world.


Simon-Pierre Monette, Booz & Company, moderated this panel on Wednesday afternoon. Panelists discussed education, knowledge transfer, projects, and technology related to CCS.

Liv Stubholt, CEO, Aker Clean Carbon, said carbon capture will remain an available, feasible, and viable option for decades to come. John Barry, Shell, highlighted three challenges of CCS demonstration projects: financing, public acceptance, and high costs. Bernd Holling, Linde Group, described three technologies for scaling-up CCS pilot projects to demonstration projects, related to the fuel, pre-commercial, and post-commercial stages.

Bader Al Lakmi, Director, Masdar Carbon, noted the potential of CCS to qualify for funding under the Clean Development Mechanism as an incentive to continue pursuing CCS technologies as a mechanism for carbon reduction. Saif Al Sayari, Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, described CCS as an important avenue for mitigating fossil fuel contributions to global warming.

Panelists discussed the need for greater education on CCS, noting that the public lacks understanding of the technology. Holling described public resistance to onshore storage. He said collaboration with academia could boost public opinion. Lakmi proposed joint education efforts between governments and project developers.


Jürgen Weiss, Brattle Group, moderated this session on Wednesday afternoon. He explained that pumped hydropower dominates overall energy storage capacity, while battery storage technology still accounts for a small portion. Timothy Patey, ABB, said energy storage provides more control for electric grids. He described using energy storage systems to complement fixed electricity infrastructure, and emphasized matching storage technologies with applications. Jarl Pedersen, Xtreme Power, presented a lead acid battery technology that is highly efficient and 98% recyclable. He noted projects in Hawaii where battery storage technology has been used to stabilize integration of wind and solar generation into the grid.

Tom Zhao, BYD, said China’s renewable electricity generation targets provide a fertile market for storage technologies, noting that his company’s battery technology is produced inexpensively and can be used in both small- and large-scale applications. Alex Katon, International Power-GDF Suez, highlighted that significant storage technology will be required to stabilize 18,000 MW of renewable energy capacity in the region by 2020. He noted that barriers to renewable energy also limit energy storage system uptake.


Matt Brown, Director, Pöyry Management Consulting, chaired this session on Wednesday afternoon, which focused on nuclear energy potential in the Gulf region.

Ibrahim Babelli, King Abdullah City of Atomic and Renewable Energy, cited future energy demand in Saudi Arabia based on generational demographics, growth in manufacturing and service industries, and a shift away from fossil fuels. Homam Albaroudi, Gulf Cooperation Council, presented a joint study on the possibility of shared regional nuclear power development, noting concerns regarding transboundary responsibilities.

Mike Waite, Westinghouse Electric Company, highlighted increased interest in “passive” response systems to improve plant safety; for example, through utilizing gravity-fed water-cooling systems. Ahmed Ateeq bin Rubea Al Mazrouei, Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, said that the lessons of the Fukushima disaster are being incorporated into current designs for nuclear power plants.


Ausilio Bauen, E4tech, moderated this session on Wednesday afternoon. Anselm Eisentraut, IEA, noted bioenergy supplies about 10% of the world’s primary energy demand, but it is generally used inefficiently. He said biomass would potentially play a large part in curbing future greenhouse gas emissions in ambitious mitigation scenarios. Bart Dehue, Vattenfall, described his utility’s substitution of coal with biomass chips for combined heat and power generation. He said biomass is an ideal CO2 reduction strategy as many coal-fired power stations can be modified to use woodchips in addition to coal. Ralph Sims, Massey University, noted the reference of the IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation to WFES discussions. He said that biomass with CCS may be an important mitigation option in the future.

Olivier Dubois, FAO, spoke on bioenergy and food security criteria and indicators developed by FAO and UNEP to support government knowledge and policy. He said that biofuels are “neither good, nor bad, what matters is the way they are managed.” Raffi Balian, US Department of State, noted that the US is the world’s largest producer of bioenergy, which he said is an important component for diversifying energy supply.


Chaired by José Alberich and Jörg Schrottke, A.T. Kearney, this Wednesday afternoon session focused on the role of smart grids and infrastructure in optimizing energy efficiency and consumption. Edward Abbo, President, C3, defined digital energy as the cyber-infrastructure used to gather, interpret, and utilize data along the energy supply chain to improve utility-customer interactions. He also described C3’s collaboration with Masdar City, calling it a live experiment of the smart grid. Eyad Alqadi, Cisco Systems, presented the multi-tiered security measures to safeguard against cyber-attacks aimed at crippling energy infrastructure and causing blackouts. He added that smart infrastructure could help traditional and renewable energy sectors. Sjaak Antheunisse, Alcatel-Lucent, commented on the challenge of engaging the end user in a new age of responsible energy consumption, and emphasized multi-stakeholder solutions to infrastructure problems. Gianluca Marini, CESI, stressed the importance of incentivizing customers to shift their energy consumption from peak to off-peak demand load, and described the role of transmission system operators in managing power flows. Stephan Singer, WWF, said that investment and policy are required to encourage and sustain a decentralized and distributed smart grid.


Alex O’Cinneide, Director, Masdar Capital, moderated this session on Thursday morning. Roger Ammoun, Credit Suisse Asset Management, explained that venture capitalists are honing strategies for sub-sectors of renewables in a market which is correcting itself in response to the initial “feeding frenzy” of capital injection into renewables. Anup Jacob, Virgin Green Fund, underlined green technology as attracting good management teams, and carbon pricing to level the energy playing fields. Nikunj Jinsi, International Finance Corporation (IFC), noted IFC’s role in boosting innovation and capitalizing nascent markets. He said that the typical venture capital path might not match renewables’ longer gestation periods. Wayne Keast, CEO, Consensus Environment, noted success in capitalizing existing companies that are already earning returns. Keast added that investment trends follow signals from government policy. Eswar Mani, Masdar Capital, said insights into sales and market adoption cycles were needed for more strategic venture capital, and identified opportunities for distributed, off-grid energy in emerging markets. Michael Sears, Siemens Venture Capital, identified building management systems as a high growth area. Marcelo Carvalho de Andrade, Earth Capital Partners, said public-private partnerships remain important for “de-risking” investment in emerging green technology.


Dima Rifai, Paradigm Change Capital Partners, moderated this panel on Thursday morning. Panelists focused on innovation and capital sources, identifying the right vehicles for investors to innovate, and considering both equity and debt.

Adam Bruce, Mainstream Renewable Power, described the value of grouping corporations with concern about energy security risk and price volatility to fund energy infrastructure. He added that mobile telephony is a new financing trend.

Simon Currie, Norton Rose, underscored financing driven by long-term yields and returns over regulation and tax because incentive-based tax increases long-term risk. He said traditional financing vehicles and equity models persist, but identified innovative partnerships and carbon investors moving into the renewable energy sector as two new trends.

Emma Matebalavu, Clifford Chance, described the UK “Green Deal” to make old housing stock more energy efficient by incentivizing loans for home efficiency, which distributes risk in the capital market and provides benefits of scale.

Margaret Stephens, KPMG, said performance regimes for green targets would attract investors and explained that the infrastructure community adapts to new projects, such as green energy, and will invest if they make good business sense.


Rakesh Radhakrishnan, Navigant Consulting moderated this session, on Thursday morning. He opened with remarks on the impacts of international trade regulations on the clean technology sector.

Jamie Carstairs, Linnfall Consulting, noted energy was formerly delivered by place-based, state-owned public utilities, using planning as a basis for investment, whereas today’s competitive utility markets rely on price signals. He described a high level of policy risk affecting investment in renewables.

Stefano Besseghini, Ricerca sul Sistema Energetico, Italy, stressed the physical aspect of electricity markets, as they rely on the capacity and stability of distribution grids and interconnections. He recommended technology exchange and information, as innovations have great potential to alter returns on investment.

Ruzgar Barisik, IFC, highlighted the IFC’s role as a catalyst for further private investment and its goal to ensure 20% of its investments are in renewables.

Michelle Davies, Eversheds, noted the impact of a UK domestic subsidy on overseas-based generation. She also described company efforts to have sustainability criteria recognized in other countries. She recommended governments tailor tax regimes to favor investment in renewables.


The WFES Exhibition took place alongside the Summit sessions. Delegates were offered the opportunity to tour the WFES Exhibition late Wednesday afternoon, viewing the offerings of several hundred exhibitors who filled the venue with booths, working models, video displays, and giveaway items.

Electric cars, including one currently being tested at Masdar City, drew a steady stream of interest. One educational display on smart transportation offered participants the opportunity to “drive” using a video-monitor racetrack.

Other eye-catching installations included the wind turbine rotating high above the IRENA booth, a water sprinkler system displaying lighting and logo effects, and an oil corporation’s demonstration of carbon capture and storage using Lego blocks.

Technology went hand-in-hand with human resource development as students and young people thronged the lecture spaces and special events, including participants in Masdar’s Young Future Energy Leaders (YFEL) initiative.

While the focus at WFES was on technological innovation, many government agencies ran pavilions promoting investment opportunities and country products, from solar panels to carbon markets and coastal monitoring. Conference and specialized publishing industry representatives also worked the hallways, offering information on and overviews of the renewables market through publications and organized events.


In addition to the plenary and parallel sessions, delegates attended numerous events throughout WFES, including: roundtable discussions; the Project Village; discussions at the YFEL Pavilion; displays at Innovate@WFES; presentations at the Masdar Theatre; and numerous other side events, meetings, and workshops at national, institutional, and company pavilions.

The YFEL is a Masdar Institute programme that seeks to engage young people via alternative energy and sustainability activities. The initiative supported students and young professionals to attend the WFES, and hosted numerous presentations and debates in its dedicated conference area. The WFES Project Village enabled companies to showcase a centerpiece project in a “village” setting, which included networking space. The roundtables enabled small group discussions on a variety of popular and emerging energy issues. Innovate@WFES provided a hub for startup companies on clean technology.

A sample of side events at WFES 2012 is summarized below.


This side event was held every day at the Masdar Theatre. Assem Kabesh, Masdar City, presented information on this planned, state-of-the-art “sustainable city,” highlighting the UAE’s policy to move from a commodities-based to knowledge-based economy. The six kilometer-square Masdar City area aims to attract renewable energy and clean technology industries, and will be equipped to visualize and track resource use patterns. As an incentive, foreign-owned businesses and employees in Masdar City will be tax-exempt for a period of 50 years. He said that Masdar aims to shift the UAE from an oil-based, consumption economy to a knowledge-based economy.


This side event was held on Tuesday afternoon at the YFEL Theater. Youth teams debated the US (pro-tariff) and Chinese (anti-tariff) positions on solar panels. China accounts for 60% of the world’s solar panel industry and exports 95% of its production. The pro-tariff team claimed there is unfair competition. The anti-tariff team argued the success results from good manufacturing processes and cheap labor. The motion against tariffs narrowly won the debate.


During a Wednesday morning side event at the Siemens Pavilion, Ulrich Eberl, Siemens presented a vision of an urban energy system resembling the Internet, connecting smart energy-producing and consuming devices. He said exponential increases in computing will result in more smart devices and applications for device interactions, and optimized consumer lifestyles.


During an early afternoon round table on Wednesday, Tom Joseph, President, Epiphany Solar Water Systems, described his company’s use of CSP to power seawater desalination and purification through flash distillation. He said it is safe, scalable, affordable, and accessible, and the target markets include: governments; municipal plants; and NGOs and local micro-entrepreneurs in the developing world.


During a Wednesday afternoon side event at the Vestas Pavilion, Vestas presented WindMade, a certification scheme for organizations that produce a minimum of 25% of their energy from renewable sources. The Vestas representative said his company had invested half their winnings from the 2011 Zayed Future Energy Prize into developing WindMade. He noted that Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Lego, Method, Motorola, and others are also working towards certification.


Throughout the week, the Japan Pavilion sponsored Emirati students to learn about generating electricity from non-conventional sources and building and driving mini-solar powered cars. Ikuko Ukaji, George P. Johnson Experience Marketing, said, “We thought it could be a good opportunity to share [the Japanese] strategy on education [with the Emiratis].”


Hanaan Yahya, Exxon Mobil, spoke on Thursday morning at the ExxonMobil Pavilion on the opportunities for appropriately trained women in the oil and gas industry. Lamya Mohamed, Emirates Foundation, underscored the importance of empowering female youth through scholarships spanning the arts, environment and scientific research. Sulaf Al-Zu’bi, CEO, INJAZ-UAE, urged the energy sector to market itself to attract more brilliant, young minds.


The fourth annual Zayed Future Energy Prize award ceremony was held on Tuesday evening at the Emirates Palace Hotel. The Prize, named after the late founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, celebrates achievements in the fields of renewable energy and sustainability that reflect three criteria: innovation, long-term vision, and leadership. Submissions were assessed by a jury composed of diverse members including Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, President of Iceland, Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives, tennis player Andre Agassi, and actor Leonardo di Caprio.

The winners of the Zayed Future Energy Prize 2012 were: Schneider Electric (France) in the Large Corporations category for providing safe, reliable, and efficient energy; Ashok Gadgil in the Lifetime Achievement category for his work in reducing fuel wood consumption in Darfur through efficient cooking stoves; and the Carbon Disclosure Project (UK) in the small and medium enterprises (SME) and NGO category for motivating 3,000 of the world’s largest companies to disclose their carbon and water use.


Initial Discussions on the Zero Draft of UNCSD Outcome Document: The initial discussions on the “zero draft” of the Outcome Document for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20) will take place from 25-27 January 2012, and will be based on a compilation of the input received by the UNCSD Secretariat from member States and other stakeholders.  dates: 25-27 January 2012  location: New York, US  contact: UNCSD Secretariat www:

World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012: The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012 will convene under the theme “The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models” in late January 2012.  dates: 25-29 January 2012  location: Davos, Switzerland  phone: +41-22-869-1212  fax: +41-22-786-2744 www:

Transforming Transportation: The ninth annual “Transforming Transportation” event will take place at the World Bank in Washington DC, US, in late January 2012, and will focus on big ideas to scale-up sustainable transport best practices in cities worldwide.  dates: 26-27 January 2012  location: World Bank, Washington, DC, US  contact: EMBARQ  phone: +1-202-729-7600  fax: +1-202-729-7610 email: www:

Dialogue on Energy and Climate Change Governance: This seventh meeting in a series of dialogues organized by the Organization of American States (OAS) will seek to generate recommendations for UNCSD on improving the normative framework for energy sustainability and climate change mitigation.  dates: 28 February 2012  location: OAS headquarters, Washington, DC, US  contact: Mark Lambrides  phone: +1-202-458-6261  fax: +1-202- 458-3560 www:

CIF SREP Pilot Countries Meeting: The Climate Investment Funds (CIF) Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Program (SREP) will hold a meeting of its pilot countries, to evaluate progress and discuss tasks ahead.  dates: 7-10 March 2012  location: Nairobi, Kenya  contact: Zhihong Zhang  phone: +1-202-458-1801  email: www:

Third Intersessional Meeting for UNCSD: The final intersessional meeting for the UNCSD will be convened in March 2012.  dates: 26-27 March 2012  location: UN Headquarters, New York  contact: UNCSD Secretariat www:

Second IEA Energy Training Week: This interactive training event is delivered by a large team of International Energy Agency (IEA) experts who will take government officials and private sector experts from non-IEA countries through a mix of focused lectures, practical exercises, and field trips.  dates: 2-6 April 2012  location: IEA, Paris, France  33  fax: +33-1-40576509 info@greenorbis www:

International Congress on Energy Security: This conference will cover a wide range of issues, such as: standard and alternative energy sources and policies, renewable energies, climate changes, and geopolitics.  dates: 4-5 April 2012  location: Geneva, Switzerland  contact: Global Bioenergy Partnership Secretariat  phone: +41-32-422-59-33  fax: +41 32 422 59 07  email:info@greenorbis.chwww:

Sustainable Biomass for Electricity Conference (SB4E): This conference, organized by UN-Energy in cooperation with the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) and other partners, will consider the role of biomass technologies in decarbonizing the global energy system.  dates: 18-20 April 2012  location: Austria  contact: Global Bioenergy Partnership Secretariat  phone: +39-06-57052834  fax: +39-06-57053369 www:

Clean Energy Ministerial 3 (CEM3): The meeting will discuss progress made by the 11 CEM clean energy initiatives, explore ways to enhance collaboration between participating governments, and develop strategies to drive public-private engagement to support clean energy deployment.  dates: 25-26 April 2012  location: London, UK  contact: CEM Secretariat www:

Resilient Cities 2012: Organized by ICLEI, this meeting will focus on the following themes: urban risk and the issue of urban infrastructure as a key element in building resilient cities; resilient integrated urban design; resilient urban renewable energy; resilient urban logistics; and financing the resilient city.  dates: 12-15 May 2012 location: Bonn (Nordrhein-Westfalen), Germany  contact: Resilient Cities 2012 - Congress Secretariat  phone: +49–(0)228 / 976 299-28  fax: +49-(0)228 / 976 299-01 www:

Joint Japan-IRENA workshop for promoting renewable energy in the Pacific Island region: This workshop aims to further strengthen cooperation between the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and Pacific Island countries in the field of renewable energy. It will take place late May 2012, taking advantage of the 6th Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM6) in Okinawa, Japan.  dates: late May 2012  location: Okinawa, Japan  contact: Ms. Kotono HARA, Economic Security Division, Economic Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs  phone: +81-3-5501-8339 www:

7th Clean Asia Energy Forum 2012: This annual flagship event of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) serves as a knowledge sharing platform for learning and exchange of experiences on key issues and latest developments in clean energy. dates: 4-8 June 2012 location: Manila, Philippines contact: Aiming Zhou, ADB email:azhou@adb.orgwww:

Third PrepCom for UNCSD: The third meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the UNCSD will take place in Brazil just prior to the Conference.  dates: 13-15 June 2012  location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  contact: UNCSD Secretariat www:

G20 Summit 2012: This meeting will consider: economic stability and structural reform for growth and employment; strengthening of financial systems and procurement of financial inclusion for economic growth; improving international financial architecture in an interconnected global economy; mitigating negative effects on price level and volatility of commodities, in particular those affecting food security; and promoting sustainable development with a focus on infrastructure, energy efficiency, green growth, and financing the fight against climate change.  dates: 18-19 June 2012  location: Los Cabos, Mexico  contact: Aiming Zhou, ADB www:

Rio+20/UN Conference on Sustainable Development: The UNCSD will mark the 20th anniversary of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit), which convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992.  dates: 20-22 June 2012  location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  contact: UNCSD Secretariat www:

Africa Energy Forum: This gathering is Africa’s premier annual power and gas investment and business forum, where governments and state utilities address the international energy community on opportunities available in Africa’s power and gas sectors.  dates: 26-28 June 2012  location: Berlin, Germany  contact: Rod Cargill  phone: +44-(0)20-7370-8406 www:

IUCN World Conservation Congress 2012: The Congress will explore many of the most pressing environmental and development challenges and how strong and resilient nature is intricately linked to solving these issues, including nature+climate, nature+livelihoods, nature+energy and nature+economics.  dates: 6-15 September 2012  location: Jeju (Cheju-Do), Republic of Korea  contact: Enrique Lahmann  phone: +41 22 999 0336  fax: +41 22 9990002  email: www:

Asia Future Energy Forum & Exhibition: This meeting promotes leading-edge sustainable energy governance, business, investment, finance, and technology that enable the smart delivery of clean energy solutions.  dates: 22-24 October 2012  location: Marina Bay Sands, Singapore  contact: Rachel Low  email: www:

The International Workshop on Advances in Energy Studies 2012: This meeting is dedicated to advances, innovation and visions in energy and energy-related environmental and socio-economic issues. dates: 25-27 October 2012  location: Mumbai, India  contact: Conference Secretariat

Years of building pressure in many parts of the world, at least since the global financial crisis,1 crystallized into dramatic political results during 2016 as public disaffection with the status quo gained traction. In the West, consensus expectations were defied by the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, by President-elect Donald Trump’s victory in the United States and by the Italian electorate’s rejection of Matteo Renzi’s constitutional reforms. The implications of results such as these are potentially far-reaching – some people question whether the West has reached a tipping point and might now embark on a period of deglobalization. 2 But the uncertainty and instability that characterized 2016 are not Western phenomena alone: we saw variations of them in countries across the world, including Brazil, the Philippines and Turkey.

These developments should not surprise us. Over the past decade TheGlobal Risks Report has drawn attention each year to a persistent cluster of economic, social and geopolitical factors that have helped shape the global risks landscape. In 2007 and 2008, for example, TheGlobal Risk Report’s rankings showed deglobalization in advanced economies as tied for the risk with the highest impact; in 2011, the Report  focused on “economic disparity and global governance failures”; in 2014 it highlighted “societal concerns includ[ing] the breakdown of social structures, the decline of trust in institutions, the lack of leadership and persisting gender inequalities”; and in 2015 it observed that “the fragility of societies is of increasing concern” and cautioned against excessive economic optimism, noting that it might “reflect a false sense of control, as history shows that people … are often taken by surprise by the same risks.” 3

That discontent with the current order has now become an election-winning proposition clearly increases the urgency of understanding and responding to these global risks. The World Economic Forum has identified five key challenges that will require greater global attention and action: 

  • fostering greater solidarity and long-term thinking in market capitalism, 
  • revitalizing global economic growth,
  • recognizing the importance of identity and inclusiveness in healthy political communities,
  • mitigating the risks and exploiting the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and
  • strengthening our systems of global cooperation.

The remainder of Part 1 looks at each of these challenges, drawing on the latest Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS) to identify potential trigger points that might create new risks, exacerbate existing risks or – an under-appreciated possibility – provide opportunities to do things differently in a way that mitigates risks. Part 1 concludes with a reflection on environmental risk, which again stands out in the GRPS as a source of concern, and which would be particularly vulnerable to any loss of momentum in global cooperation.

Economy: Growth and Reform

Despite unprecedented levels of peace and global prosperity, in many countries a mood of economic malaise has contributed to anti-establishment, populist politics and a backlash against globalization. The weakness of the economic recovery following the global financial crisis is part of this story, but boosting growth alone would not remedy the deeper fractures in our political economy. More fundamental reforms to market capitalism may be needed to tackle, in particular, an apparent lack of solidarity between those at the top of national income and wealth distributions and those further down.

Economic concerns pervade the latest GRPS results. This is not immediately evident from the evolution of the top-five risks by impact and likelihood, as illustrated in Figure 2, which shows economic risks fading in prominence since the height of the global financial crisis, and missing entirely for the first time in the latest survey. However, in addition to asking respondents to assess the impact and likelihood of individual risks, the survey asks ask them to consider the influences and interconnections that shape the risk landscape. Here the economy is paramount. “Growing income and wealth disparity” is seen by respondents as the trend most likely to determine global developments over the next 10 years (see Table 1.1), and when asked to identify interconnections between risks, the most frequently mentioned pairing was that of unemployment and social instability (see Table 1.2 and Appendix A).

Table 1.1: Top 5 Trends that Determine Global Developments

1Rising Income and wealth disparity
2Changing climate
3Increasing polarization of societies
4Rising cyber dependency
5Ageing population

Source: World Economic Forum Global Risks Perception Survey 2016.

Table 1.2: Most Important Risks’ Interconnections

1Unemployment and underemployment
Profound social instability
2Large-scale involuntary migration
State collapse or crisis
3Failure of climate-change mitigation and adaption
Water crises
4Failure of national governance
Profound social instability
5Interstate conflict with regional consequences
Large-scale involuntary migration

Source: World Economic Forum Global Risks Perception Survey 2016.

Globally, inequality between countries has been decreasing at an accelerating pace over the past 30 years. 4 Within some countries, however, the data tell a different story. Inequality had been falling consistently in the industrialized world since the beginning of the 20th century, but since the 1980s the share of income going to the top 1% has increased in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland and Australia (although not in Germany, Japan, France, Sweden, Denmark or the Netherlands). 5 Reasons include skill-biased technological change6 – which increases the returns to education – combined with scale effects as markets became more interconnected, increasing global competition for talent. Among other things, this has led to an increase in CEO compensation as firms have become larger.7 Global communications have also driven up returns for individuals who can successfully cater to a global audience – what Sherwin Rosen described as “the economics of superstars”.8

In advanced economies, the incomes of the traditionally well-off middle classes have grown at a comparatively slower pace9 – and slower also than the incomes of the emerging middle classes of countries in Latin America, Africa, and particularly Asia.10 The slow pace of economic recovery since 2008 has intensified local income disparities,11 with a more dramatic impact on many households than aggregate national income data would suggest. This has contributed to anti-establishment sentiment in advanced economies, and although emerging markets have seen poverty fall at record speed,12 they have not been immune to rising public discontent – evident, for example, in large demonstrations against corruption across Latin America. Larrain et al. argue that rising prosperity and a growing middle class lead to greater demands for better government and public goods, which governments across the developing world have been unable to meet.13

In the wake of the financial crisis, economic policy-making has been predominantly monetary rather than fiscal. Unorthodox countercyclical policies such as quantitative easing – large-scale purchases of government bonds by central banks – have evolved into enduring features of economic policy frameworks. And although evidence points to positive impacts on growth and employment,14 while workers’ real earnings have been growing very slowly.16

This is not the only source of concern about exceptional monetary policies. Sustained low interest rates can distort the financial mechanisms that underpin healthy economic activity: they make it unusually cheap for struggling companies to roll over their debts, inhibiting the process of re-allocating resources from inefficient to more innovative parts of the economy. This in turn complicates the process of clearing the debt overhangs that in many countries remains an unresolved legacy of the pre-crisis boom, weighing on growth by diverting income towards debt servicing rather than fresh consumption or investment. 

Is it time for the pendulum to swing from monetary to fiscal policy? In the United States, President-elect Trump campaigned on the promise of increased infrastructure spending, and globally there is tentative evidence of a gradual move towards fiscal loosening.17 This presents its own risks: borrowing costs for governments have been exceptionally low in recent years, but if investors were to re-price risk sharply, the adjustment this would require from high-deficit countries could have significant economic and political consequences. However, it is not only concerns about market responses that shape governments’ reluctance to turn to fiscal policy. Policy preferences matter too. In the Eurozone, for example, governments have been slow to respond to repeated exhortations from Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, to find more space for fiscal loosening.18 Using Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data, Figure 1.2 illustrates the divergence of fiscal trends in the United States and Eurozone since 2015.

Beyond monetary policy and fiscal stimulus, productivity growth has also been slow to recover from the crisis. Structural rates of unemployment remain high, particularly among young people in Europe, and the United States has seen a marked slump in labour participation rates. And in contrast with the pre-crisis era, when China’s rapid expansion bolstered overall growth rates, there is no emerging-market game-changer on the horizon.19 China is in a gradual slowdown as its economy transitions from an investment-led to a consumption-led growth model, and many other emerging markets are undergoing a traumatic adjustment to the end of a commodities super-cycle that underpinned much of their growth so far this century. 

In sum, it is difficult to identify routes that will lead back to robust global rates of economic growth. However, growth is now only part of the challenge policy-makers need to address. Concerns over income and wealth distribution are becoming more politically disruptive, and much greater emphasis is needed on the increasing financial insecurity that characterizes many people’s lives. As socio-economic outcomes are increasingly determined globally, popular frustration is growing at the inability of national politics to provide stability. Economist Dani Rodrik coined the phrase “the globalization trilemma” to capture his view that, among democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration, only two are simultaneously compatible – and recent events in Europe and the United States suggest an appetite for rebalancing towards democracy and national sovereignty. 

The combination of economic inequality and political polarization threatens to amplify global risks, fraying the social solidarity on which the legitimacy of our economic and political systems rests. New economic systems and policy paradigms are urgently needed to address the sources of popular disenchantment.20 These could include more effective human capital policies, to enable more people to benefit from skill-biased technological change; better public goods (whether publicly or privately provided) to address the ambitions of the growing middle class around the world; and more responsive governance systems to empower individuals at the local level without sacrificing the many benefits of globalization.

Society: Rebuilding Communities

Issues of identity and culture were central to the two most dramatic Western political results of 2016, in the United Kingdom and the United States. This is part of a broader trend affecting both international and domestic politics. Across the European Union, parties stressing national sovereignty and/or values have prospered,21 boosted in part by migration flows that GRPS respondents continue to point to as a major geopolitical risk. Outside the European Union, polarization in Turkey has deepened since 2010,22 while Russia has been expressing its national political identity in increasingly assertive foreign policy stances.23 Globally, politics is increasingly defined by the rise of charismatic “strongman” national politicians and emotive political debate: “post-truth” was the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year.24

In the latest GRPS, respondents ranked “increasing polarization” as the third most important trend for the next 10 years – it was cited by 31% of respondents, with “increasing national sentiment” cited by 14%. The survey recorded an increase in the perceived impact of “failure of national governance” but, perhaps surprisingly, “profound social instability” dropped in the rankings for both perceived likelihood and impact. One possibility is that the global decision-makers who mostly comprise the GRPS panel have not been sufficiently attuned to this risk. Another way of interpreting the GRPS, however, is to focus on the underlying trends rather than the risks. By placing both polarization and intensifying national sentiment among the top five trends (see Table 1.1), GRPS respondents have highlighted long-term patterns that, if they persist, are likely to continue to amplify a range of social and political risks. 

In the West, decades of rapid social and economic change have widened generation gaps in values, disrupted traditional patterns of affiliation and community, and eroded the support of mainstream political parties.25 Early analysis by political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris points to the populism behind the victories of Brexit and President-elect Trump as being driven more by demographics and cultural factors than income inequality:26 a backlash among older and less-educated voters who “feel that they are being marginalized within their own countries” by changing values in areas such as gender, sexual orientation, race, multiculturalism, environmental protection and international cooperation. Pew research found stark divisions in the self-described values of supporters of President-elect Trump and Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton: for example, 72% of President-elect Trump’s supporters described themselves as “traditional”, versus 31% of Clinton supporters; other big differences included “honor and duty are my core values” (59% vs 35%); “typical American” (72% vs 49%), “feminist” (5% vs 38%) and “supporter of LGBT rights” (24% vs 66%).27

Many established political parties are ill-equipped to respond to voters’ placing greater emphasis on culture and values, because the parties have shifted towards the centre of the political spectrum and a managerial or technocratic style of politics.28 They have lost touch with their traditional core constituencies, particularly those with class-based roots.29 In 2013, political scientist Peter Mair wrote that political parties’ failure to engage voters meant democracy was starting to buckle as electorates “are becoming effectively non-sovereign”.30 Events last year suggest that verdict may have been premature. Both the Brexit and President-elect Trump victories featured (1) outsiders to major party politics (2) successfully engaging traditionalist voters with (3) appeals to sovereignty rooted in national identity and pride. Unusually, older voters were in the vanguard of these disruptive movements – and with populations ageing, the pendulum may not swing back towards the younger generation’s views for some time.31

Dramatic events can have complex effects on the risk landscape. They can trigger new risks or exacerbate existing ones, but they can also open the way to responses that mitigate risks. As many of the West’s democracies face up to the growing electoral influence of traditionalist political identities, there are potential gains for social solidarity and democratic legitimacy if processes of political debate and compromise re-connect with the older, less-educated and predominantly male voters who currently feel excluded. However, it will be challenging to find political narratives and policies that can repair decades-long cultural fault-lines while preserving, for example, gender and minority rights. Failure could further undermine social and cultural cohesion: Daron Acemoglu, author with James Robinson of Why Nations Fail, has cautioned that current divisions in the United States risk undermining not just the electoral process but the institutions and norms on which it is founded.32

Technology: Managing Disruption

Evidence suggests that technological change provides a better explanation than globalization for the industrial decline and deteriorating labour-market prospects that have catalyzed anti-establishment voting in many of the world’s advanced economies. Today’s world is one in which production, mobility, communication, energy and other systems are changing with unprecedented speed and scope, disrupting everything from employment patterns to social relationships and geopolitical stability. Driven by the convergence between digital, biological and physical technologies, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is creating new global risks and exacerbating existing risks.   

Perhaps because of the increasing ubiquity of innovative technology, respondents to the GRPS have tended not to include technological risks among the most impactful or the most likely to occur. This can be seen in the comparatively few technological risks that appear in the evolving risk matrix (Figure 2). There are possible signs of change, however. The year 2014 was the first in which two technological risks made it into the evolving risk matrix, and this year, although only one is included (“massive incident of data fraud/theft”), another (“large-scale cyberattacks”) came sixth in the list of risks most likely to occur in the next 10 years. 

According to the economists Michael Hicks and Srikant Devaraj, 86% of manufacturing job losses in the United States between 1997 and 2007 were the result of rising productivity, compared to less than 14% lost because of trade. Most assessments suggest that technology’s disruptive effect on labour markets will accelerate across non-manufacturing sectors in the years ahead, as rapid advances in robotics, sensors and machine learning enable capital to replace labour in an expanding range of service-sector job. Estimates of the number of jobs at risk to technological displacement vary: a frequently cited 2013 Oxford Martin School study has suggested that 47% of US jobs were at high risk from automation; in 2016 an OECD working paper put the figure lower, at 9%.33 In 2015 a McKinsey study concluded that 45% of the activities that workers do today could already be automated if companies choose to do so.34 As discussed in Chapter 3.1, respondents to this year’s GRPS rate artificial intelligence and robotics as the emerging technology with the greatest potential for negative consequences over the coming decade.  

Technology has always created jobs as well as destroying them, but there is evidence that the engine of technological job creation is sputtering. The Oxford Martin School estimates that only 0.5% of today’s US workforce is employed in sectors created since 2000, compared with approximately 8% in industries created during the 1980s.35 Technological change is shifting the distribution of income from labour to capital: according to the OECD, up to 80% of the decline in labour’s share of national income between 1990 and 2007 was the result of the impact of technology.36 At a global level, however, many people are being left behind altogether: more than 4 billion people still lack access to the internet, and more than 1.2 billion people are without even electricity.37

We can shape the dynamics of the 4IR. Careful governance can guide the distribution of benefits and impact on global risks, because the evolution of new technologies will be heavily influenced by the social norms, corporate policies, industry standards and regulatory principles being debated and written today.38 Unfortunately, however, current legal, policy-making and standard-setting institutions tend to move slowly. For example, the US Federal Aviation Authority took eight months to grant Amazon an “experimental airworthiness certificate” to test a particular model of drone, by which time the model was obsolete;39 Amazon conducted its trials in Canada and the United Kingdom instead. In 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an application by AquaBounty Technologies for regulatory approval of genetically modified salmon – an application made in 1995. The salmon still cannot be sold in the United States, pending an update to labelling regulations.40

Such regulatory delays can mean social and economic benefits are missed – but when health, the environment and broader social impacts are at stake, a cautiously deliberative approach is prudent. How best to strike this balance is currently causing debate, for example, in efforts to accelerate the regulation of self-driving vehicles.41 Although populist movements have recently tapped public hostility to globalization more than to technology, there is still the risk of backlash against technological change. For example, public concerns about genetically modified foods have consistently exceeded scientific assessments of the risks associated with them, and concerns about climate change have not precluded public opposition to wind farms.42

We are in a highly disruptive phase of technological development, at a time of rising challenges to social cohesion and policy-makers’ legitimacy. Given the power of the 4IR to create and exacerbate global risks, the associated governance challenges are both huge and pressing, as further discussed in Part 3. It is critical that policy-makers and other stakeholders – across government, civil society, academia and the media – collaborate to create more agile and adaptive forms of local, national and global governance and risk management.

Geopolitics: Strengthening Cooperation

In a worrying sign of deteriorating commitment to global cooperation, states are stepping back from mechanisms set up to underpin international security through mutual accountability and respect for common norms. For example, 2016 saw Russia, South Africa, Burundi and Gambia withdraw from the International Criminal Court, and China reject the verdict of the international tribunal on the South China Sea. At the time of writing, the incoming US president is considering withdrawal from the recent Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran nuclear deal) and the Paris Climate Change agreement. The exit of major stakeholders from economic agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership also carries geopolitical significance. 

In Syria, the drawn-out nature of the war indicates how the absence of a great-power accord handicaps the United Nations, compounding the difficulties of brokering a settlement to a conflict with multiple stakeholders at global, regional and non-state levels, or even organizing a limited intervention to facilitate humanitarian relief or protect civilians. The death toll among non-combatants – including from chemical weapons – has been met with despairing rhetoric but no effective action to enforce long-standing humanitarian laws and norms.

In parallel to their withdrawal of support for collective solutions, major powers now openly trade accusations of undermining international security or interfering in their domestic politics. For years President Putin has accused the United States of seeking to undermine global stability and Russian sovereignty, and in 2016 the US National Security Agency blamed Russia for interference in the presidential election. Tensions rose between the United States and China over freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and the deployment of US missile defence systems to the Republic of Korea, which led to Beijing warning the United States not to “harm China’s strategic security interests”.   

In response to the general loss of faith in collective security mechanisms, regional powers and smaller nations are increasingly exploring the acquisition of new conventional weapons capabilities, offensive cyber weapons and even nuclear ones. Notwithstanding the normative and practical obstacles confronting a state seeking nuclear capability, political leaders in nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states alike have increasingly made reference to the utility of nuclear weapons in the context of changing threat perceptions and wavering confidence in alliance structures. If this rhetoric turns into policy, it could entail a huge diversion of resources into a new nuclear arms race and a jump in the risk of pre-emptive strikes aimed at preventing an adversary gaining nuclear capability.

In summary, developments in 2016 present numerous reminders that international security requires collective commitments and investment to define a positive vision, as well as political will to make responsible trade-offs and commit resources (Box 1.1). As technological, demographic and climate pressures intensify the danger of systems failure, competition among world powers and fragmentation of security efforts makes the international system more fragile, placing collective prosperity and survival at risk. 

Box 1.1: Five Factors Exacerbating Geopolitical Risks

Five factors aggravate the impact on global risks of the current geopolitical atmosphere of rising competition, loss of trust and heightened suspicion:  

First, international cooperation is giving way to unilateral or transactional approaches to foreign policy just as a host of issues – such as global growth, debt and climate change – demand urgent collective action. If allowed to fester, such issues could spawn a range of new problems with costs falling disproportionately on fragile communities.  

Second, the inter-connected nature of the global system produces cascading risks at the domestic level. In Syria, for example, failures of governance have produced civil conflict, driving migration that transfers economic, social and political pressures into countries already experiencing frustrations with low growth and rising inequality, fuelling radicalization and acts of violence. 

Third, a declining sense of trust and mutual good faith in international relations makes it harder to contain the resulting pressures through domestic policy. The current climate of mutual suspicion can exacerbate domestic political tensions through accusations of outside actors interfering to shape popular perceptions via proxy forces, media manipulation or threatening military gestures. 

Fourth, technological innovation exacerbates the risk of conflict. A new arms race is developing in weaponized robotics and artificial intelligence. Cyberspace is now a domain of conflict, and the Arctic and deep oceans are being opened up by remote vehicle access; in each case, there is no established system for policing responsible behaviour. Because research and development of “dual-use” technologies takes place largely in the private sector, they can be weaponized by a wider range of state and non-state actors – for example, the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” has used commercial drones to deliver bombs in Syria, and open-source technology could potentially create devastating biological weapons. Existing counter-proliferation methods and institutions cannot prevent the dissemination of technologies that exist in digital form.   

Fifth, while risks intersect and technologies develop quickly, too often our institutions for governing international security remain reactive and slow-moving. 


Environment: Accelerating Action

As Figure 2 illustrates, a cluster of interconnected environment-related risks – including extreme weather events, climate change and water crises – has consistently featured among the top-ranked global risks for the past seven editions of The Global Risks Report. Environment-related risks again stand out in this year’s global risk landscape (see Figure 3, with every risk in the category lying in the higher-impact, higher-likelihood quadrant. Environmental risks are also closely interconnected with other risk categories. Four of the top ten risk interconnections in this year’s GRPS involve environmental risks, the most frequently cited of these being the pairing of “water crises” and “failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation”.

This shows that ineffective management of the “global commons” – the oceans, atmosphere, and climate system – can have local as well as global consequences. For example, changing weather patterns or water crises can trigger or exacerbate geopolitical and societal risks such as domestic or regional conflict and involuntary migration, particularly in geopolitically fragile areas.

Further progress was made during 2016 in addressing climate and other environmental risks, reflecting firm international resolve on the transition to a low-carbon global economy and on building resilience to climate change: 

  • The Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force on 4 November 2016; it is now ratified by more than 110 countries; 
  • a strong signal of support for implementing the Paris Agreement was made by 196 governments, including China, at the Marrakesh Climate Conference in late November43
  • the International Civil Aviation Organisation agreed a “market-based measure” that will ensure no net growth in aviation emissions after 2020 – this is significant because international aviation, like shipping, falls outside the scope of the Paris Agreement; and 
  • also in October, parties to the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances agreed an important amendment that could help avoid an additional 0.5°C of warming by 2050 through reducing the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which have an extremely high global warming potential.44

The year 2016 also saw positive empirical evidence that the transition to a low-carbon economy is underway: 

  • Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that global investment in renewable energy capacity in 2015 was US$266 billion, more than double the allocations to new coal and gas capacity;45 and
  • the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that the total generation capacity of renewable energy now exceeds coal-fired power plants for the for first time, and for the past two years greenhouse gas emissions have been de-coupled from economic growth.46

However, the pace of change is not yet fast enough. Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are growing, currently by about 52 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year,47 even though the share from industrial and energy sources may be peaking as investment and innovation in green technology accelerates (see Box 1.2). The year 2016 is set to be the warmest on the instrumental record according to provisional analysis by the World Meteorological Organisation.48 It was the first time the global average temperature was 1 degree Celsius or more above the 1880–1999 average. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, each of the eight months from January through August 2016 were the warmest those months have been  in the whole 137 year record.49

Box 1.2: Climate Change and the 4IR – by Al Gore, Generation Investment Management  

Every day we spew 110 million tons of heat-trapping global warming pollution into our atmosphere. The accumulated amount of all that manmade global warming pollution is trapping as much extra heat energy as would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs exploding every single day. All that extra heat energy is disrupting the hydrological cycle, evaporating water vapor from the oceans and leading to stronger storms, more extreme floods, and deeper and longer droughts, declining crop yields, water stresses, the spread of tropical diseases poleward, and refugee crises and political instability, among other problems. Our efforts to solve the climate crisis are a race against time, but the technologies embodying the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and the implications of these changes for business and society, contain hope for the acceleration of the necessary solutions to the climate crisis.

We are seeing a continuing sharp, exponential decline in the costs of renewable energy, energy efficiency, batteries and storage – and the distribution of technologies that allow for the spread of sustainable agriculture and forestry – giving nations and communities around the world an opportunity to embrace a sustainable future based on a low carbon, hyper-efficient economy. In fact, in many parts of the world, renewable energy is already cheaper than that of fossil fuels. In some developing regions of the world, renewable energy is leapfrogging fossil fuels altogether, much in the same way mobile phones leapfrogged land-line phones.

Sixteen years ago, projections said that by 2010 the world would be able to install 30 gigawatts of wind capacity. In 2015, we installed 14.5 times that amount. Solar energy’s price decrease is even steeper and more exciting. Fourteen years ago, projections said that the solar energy market would grow 1 gigawatt per year by 2010 – that goal was exceeded by 17 times over. In 2015, we beat that mark by 58 times and 2016 was on pace to beat that mark 68 times over. In fact, the cost of solar energy has come down 10 percent per year for 30 years. 

Similar developments are likely to occur across the board as new developments in electric vehicles, smart grids and micro grids, advanced manufacturing and materials, and other areas continue to accelerate climate action. We are already seeing revolutions unfolding in areas like car sharing, forest monitoring, and data-driven reductions in industrial energy usage.

But it is not just the technologies of the 4IR that are directly making a difference: it is also the transformative operating models inherent within these technologies that contain the seeds for change. The Internet of Things has introduced a world of hyper-connectivity that allows us to approach decision-making in an entirely new manner. Our increased connectivity – between one another and to the material world – enables us to transfer information and materials more efficiently to greater numbers of people. All of this is making the tools we need to solve the greatest challenges we face more effective and more ubiquitous at a previously unseen pace.

We are going to prevail in our collective effort to solve the climate crisis, and it will be in large part due to our increasing ability to mitigate the burning of dirty fossil fuels through the opportunities presented to us by the 4IR.


The Emissions Gap Report 2016 from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) shows that even if countries deliver on the commitments – known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – that they made in Paris, the world will still warm by 3.0 to 3.2°C.50 To keep global warming to within 2°C and limit the risk of dangerous climate change, the world will need to reduce emissions by 40% to 70% by 2050 and eliminate them altogether by 2100.51 While attention will be focused on China, the United States, the European Union, and India – which collectively comprise more than half of global emissions – all countries will need to ratchet up their action in order to limit warming to 2°C.

Increasingly, legal action is being taken against national governments in an attempt to force action on environmental issues. The United Kingdom is being sued for failing to deal with a “national air pollution crisis”,52 and it has also been threatened with legal action if it fails to reduce its greenhouse emissions;53 a group of teenagers has challenged the US government for not protecting them from climate change;54 the Netherlands has been ordered by a court to cut its emissions;55 and Norway is being sued over Arctic drilling plans.56 Meanwhile, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Clean Power Plan is being challenged in court and has divided the electricity industry: coal miners, some labour unions, and 27 states support the challenge while the renewable energy industry, leading tech firms, and 18 states are supporting the EPA’s legislation.57

As warming increases, impacts grow. The Arctic sea ice had a record melt in 2016 and the Great Barrier Reef had an unprecedented coral bleaching event, affecting over 700 kilometres of the northern reef.58 The latest analysis by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that, on average, 21.5 million people have been displaced by climate- or weather-related events each year since 2008,59 and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) reports that close to 1 billion people were affected by natural disasters in 2015.60 Communities from Alaska to Fiji and Kiribati have already been relocated or are making plans to do so because the rising sea level threatens their lands.61 The World Bank forecasts that water stress could cause extreme societal stress in regions such as the Middle East and the Sahel, where the economic impact of water scarcity could put at risk 6% of GDP by 2050.62 The Bank also forecasts that water availability in cities could decline by as much as two thirds by 2050, as a result of climate change and competition from energy generation and agriculture. The Indian government advised that at least 330 million people were affected by drought in 2016.63 The confluence of risks around water scarcity, climate change, extreme weather events and involuntary migration remains a potent cocktail and a “risk multiplier”, especially in the world economy’s more fragile environmental and political contexts.

With power and influence increasingly distributed, however, there is a growing recognition that the response to environmental risks cannot be delivered by international agencies and governments alone. It requires new approaches that take a wider “systems view” of the interconnected challenges, and that involve a larger and more diverse set of actors. Some promising recent examples come from the financial sector: the Financial Stability Board’s Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosure is developing recommendations for managing the physical, liability, and transition risks of climate change; rating agencies S&P and Moody’s have announced plans to assess the climate risks facing both companies and countries; and investor groups have called for greater disclosure of companies’ exposure to climate risks. The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 also offers the promise of advancing new multi-dimensional approaches to help reduce deforestation from global supply chains, such as the recent Africa Palm Oil Initiative.64

Taking a systemic view also implies accounting for new risks that could be created by successful action to address environmental risks. For example, the transition to a low-carbon future will require measures in some economies to absorb potential labour-market impacts. China’s announcement in early 2016 that it will reduce its coal and steel sector workforce by 1.8 million (15%) over two years, resettling affected workers in response to industrial overcapacity, may provide a glimpse of what is to come.65 While most research suggests the shift to clean energy could create a substantial increase in net employment,66 the overall policy equation is complex and may require new approaches to skills training and retraining, along with measures to facilitate increased labour-force mobility. Ensuring a just transition will be important for societal stability.

Issue-specific and organization-specific silos will need to be dismantled across the public and private sectors throughout the world economy. In their place, new multi-actor alliances and coalitions for action will need to be built, cutting horizontally across traditional boundaries of interest, expertise and nationality. The rise of such multidimensional cooperation to manage our global environmental commons will be challenging in the international context described above, but essential if we are to respond adequately to the structural risks posed by climate change, extreme weather, and water crises.


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