Kirsten Schuijt(first from right) speaks at the WEF Annual Meeting in Davos 2024

Photo: World Economic Forum website

The World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2024 concluded in Davos, Switzerland, on January 19, local time.

With the theme of "A Long-Term Strategy for Climate, Nature and Energy," many participants at the meeting called for rebuilding trust and working together to address challenges such as the climate change crisis. As WEF President Borge Brende said in his closing remarks, the world is facing serious and complex challenges, such as climate change, economic fragility, and deteriorating security. These issues transcend geographic boundaries and affect everyone, and they cannot be solved "alone." Cooperation to address challenges is based on trust.

By 2050, climate change is likely to cause an additional 14.5 million deaths and $12.5 trillion in economic losses worldwide, according to a new World Economic Forum report on the impact of global warming on health. 

After the WEF 2024 Annual Meeting is closed, Kirsten Schuijt, the Director General of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), one of the major guests at the meeting, accepted NBD's interview on climate issues. WWF is the world's largest independent environmental protection organization. Since its founding in 1961, WWF has invested in over 13,000 projects involving about $10 billion. Schuijt has worked at WWF for 20 years and has held several global leadership positions in the organization.

In the interview, Schuijt pointed out that the greatest risk for the planet now is inaction on climate and nature. She also called on all parties to take urgent action to address the climate and natural crisis. She said that several international conferences, including the 29th Conference of the Parties (COP29) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will be held in Azerbaijan later this year, will be a critical moment for countries/regions to strengthen energy transition cooperation, demonstrate climate and natural leadership, and reach new climate finance goals.

Renewable energy generation is increasing fast, but not fast enough

NBD: In its Global Risks Report 2024, World Economic Forum (WEF) named extreme weather events, critical change in earth systems, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse and natural resource shortages as the top 4 long-term (10 years) risks facing the world. Do you agree with this survey result and way? Is there any climate-related risk(s) that you think should be included on the lists (short-term and long-term)? 

Kirsten Schuijt: For the past several years the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report has identified environmental challenges among the top ten-year risks. It is right that the dual and linked crises of climate change and nature loss are among the most serious risks the world faces. Climate change is driving nature loss, and the destruction of natural ecosystems is in turn fueling the climate crisis. We’ve just experienced the hottest year on record and seen extreme events such as heatwaves, storms and flooding devastating lives and livelihoods around the world. These threats will only worsen with global warming, pushing us closer to inflicting irreversible damage on society and ecosystems.

The greatest risk for the planet now is inaction on climate and nature. To safeguard communities and the nature that sustains us all, we need urgent action to address the climate and nature crises together - they cannot be tackled in isolation. This means all working together to better protect and manage the Earth’s resources to secure a safer and more prosperous future. Governments and businesses can make 2024 the year they rebuild trust and restore credibility by taking concerted action to meet their 2030 climate and nature commitments.

NBD: How could we accelerate the transition to renewable energies? On the (inter-) governmental level, what could policymakers do to boost the transition to renewables/ reach net-zero? 

Kirsten Schuijt: Renewable energy generation is increasing fast, but not fast enough. We must rapidly phase out polluting fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – and replace them with cleaner and cheaper renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. At the UN COP28 climate talks in December, countries agreed to ‘transition away from fossil fuels’ and to triple renewable energy generation - this was a significant first step and must signal the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era. While we have already seen some countries and sectors begin this transition, governments and policymakers must now ensure it is faster, greener and fairer.  

International gatherings in 2024, such as the G20 summit in Brazil, the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, biodiversity COP16 in Colombia and climate COP29 in Azerbaijan, will be key moments where countries can enhance cooperation on the energy transition and demonstrate climate and nature leadership.

The next cycle of national climate plans (NDCs) starts in 2025, so we now have two years to increase pressure on governments to prepare more ambitious and accountable NDCs aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5oC. 

Finance is essential for unlocking climate and nature action at the scale needed

NBD: In your view, what environmental laws/responses are missing at the global level on climate change at present? 

Kirsten Schuijt: We have international agreements to limit global warming to 1.5oC and to reverse nature loss by 2030. Now we need to move from agreements to action. Success in addressing the climate crisis and reversing nature loss depends on governments and businesses delivering on these commitments.

Finance is essential for unlocking climate and nature action at the scale needed. We now need to see more action at the international level to ensure finance from governments, businesses and financial institutions is significantly scaled up, and channeled to the projects and people that need it most. At the UN climate summit COP29 in Azerbaijan this year, countries must agree to a new climate finance goal that meets the needs of developing countries and adequately responds to the climate crisis.

NBD: In your view, what would be an efficient and achievable "Long-Term Strategy for Climate, Nature and Energy"? 

Kirsten Schuijt: Long-term strategies for climate, nature and energy should be aligned with what science tells us is needed to ensure a liveable planet for future generations. That means policies and finance aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5oC and reversing nature loss by 2030. 

The climate and nature crises are interlinked, so it is important that countries adopt integrated strategies for addressing them. It’s only by all working together to better protect and manage the world’s resources that we can turn the tide on nature loss and help secure a safer future for the planet and us all.

To achieve this, countries must address the drivers of climate change and nature loss, for example by transforming the way energy and food are produced and consumed, and how financial systems are structured. We have all the tools and solutions we need. It is well within our power to meet this challenge if we act now. 

Editor: Alexander