Davos 2019: Climate change and empowerment

Globalization, climate change, social entrepreneurship, and sustainability were just a few of the topics on the table at the 2019 World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland Jan. 22-25. This year, the annual forum provided a platform for environmentalists, young innovators, world leaders, multinational corporations, academics, and more to consider the issues that threaten humanity and potential solutions.

David Attenborough, a renowned English broadcaster and natural historian, delivered an optimistic yet realistic speech about the necessity of acting quickly to counter climate change. At 92 years old, Attenborough was born during the Holocene, a different geological era than the current Anthropocene era. Reminiscing about the nature docuseries “The Blue Planet,” the environmental activist marvelled at the unbelievably rapid changes in the climate and at the speed of information transmission in this epoch.

Climate change was a central theme at the Davos 2019 World Economic Forum. Protesters such as 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a climate change activist and one of the youngest attendees this year, brought attention to the prominence of the issue and called out previous generations’ passivity toward the crisis.

“You say you love your children above all else, and, yet, you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes,” Thunberg said.

In their attempts to address climate change, attendees suggested novel solutions, ranging from artificial trees to seagrass. In addition to brainstorming practical solutions to the crisis, participants grimly acknowledged the devastating consequences of climate change including ocean acidification, rising ocean temperatures, smog and air pollution, and extinction. These realities paint a dire depiction of already irreversible trends, although many attendees at the forum remained hopeful that it wasn’t too late to save the planet.

Also present at the Forum were Suzanne Fortier, principal and vice-chancellor of McGill University, and Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou, dean of the Faculty of Management. As the only Canadian members of the Global University Leaders Forum in attendance, they took on the task of promoting the interests of university students all over Canada. Fortier emphasized the importance of communication between teachers and learners.

“Universities have the opportunity to help people who want to learn, and the challenge is to listen to the new generation and find out what they want,” Fortier said at the forum.

Fortier and Bajeux-Besnainou were just  two of 696 women in attendance this year, 22 per cent of the just over 3,000 total attendees. This figure is an improvement compared to 2016, when women made up only 18 per cent of attendees.

Amidst the many leaders present at the World Economic Forum, six young people stood out as inspirational figures because of their diverse backgrounds, expertise, and ideas. Basima Abdulrahman, founder of Iraq’s first sustainable architecture consultancy firm, spoke as a fervent environmentalist but also as a philanthropist keen on improving social cohesion in her country. Akira Sakano, chair of Zero Waste Academy, explained her organization’s aim to make a small Japanese town waste free by 2020. Julia Luscombe, director of Strategic Initiatives at Feeding America, represented her non-profit that aims to improve food security in the United States through food banks. Finally, Juan David Aristizábal, Mohammed Hassan Mohamud, and Noura Berrouba attended as co-chairs of Davos 2019 with the common mission to empower young people all around the world.

Empowerment shone through at the Davos 2019 World Economic Forum, reminding attendees of the power of change and of shaping our own future.

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