Climate change top of Davos agenda

The environment was top of the media agenda at this year's World Economic Forum summit.
Climate change top of Davos agenda
By Andrew White
Sun 04 Feb 2007 12:00 AM

At the top of the agenda at this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) Davos summit — at least as far as the media circus was concerned — was the issue of climate change. In the wake of Al Gore’s Earth-shattering documentary, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, the subject was on everyone’s lips, and the WEF delegates responded by announcing the creation of the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB).

The new body will create a framework for the standardised reporting of climate risk-related issues by corporations. Members of the partnership will align their core requests for information from companies, to ensure that the companies report climate change-related information uniformly in annual reports.

“Time will tell whether the CDSB will make a real difference, however it is a good initiative in the right direction,” said Musaed Al-Saleh, vice chairman and CEO of National Projects Holding Company, that is developing Dubai Recycling Park (DRP) — the Middle East’s first recycling centre.

Key climate information to be disclosed in annual reports will be the assessment of physical and regulatory risks of climate change, and the strategic analysis of climate risk and emissions management. This will mean investors, managers and the public will be able to compare and analyse information more easily, the WEF said in a statement.

CDSB will initially comprise the California Climate Action Registry, Carbon Disclosure Project, Ceres, The Climate Group, International Emissions Trading Association, World Economic Forum Global Greenhouse Gas Register, and World Resources Institute.

The statement cited support from companies including Royal Dutch Shell, JP Morgan Chase, and Swiss Re, as well as a series of top accounting companies, many of which run operations in the Middle East.

Al-Saleh, whose business partner Jamil Sultan attended the forum, claimed that the conference had sufficiently explained to business leaders that future investments should be in the form of environmentally sound business opportunities.

“The event at Davos is at the CEO level and it does achieve positive results,” he told Arabian Business. “International high-profile events like Davos definitely help to focus the attentions of Middle East corporations towards the climate change problem.

“We need much more awareness and the more high-profile the events, the more exposure the issue of global warming will receive,” continued Al-Saleh. “We seriously need the large corporations in the Middle East to be sold on this issue, and to act on it fast.”

Al-Saleh also emphasised the need for public-private partnership models that play a role in improving the environment, such as the DRP.

“Big business should recognise that it has ‘big responsibilities’, as in having great power, comes great responsibility,” he added. “Corporations are not only responsible in achieving profit for their investors, but also their communities and environment.”

Meanwhile, the stalled Doha round of trade negotiations were given a new impetus by talks between ministers from 30 countries at the WEF. Negotiations were suspended last July because of strong disagreements between developed and developing countries, and between the European Union and the United States, on how far agricultural subsidies and tariffs on industrial goods should be cut.

“The ministerial meeting has put quite a lot of energy into the notion that the landing zone is in sight,” said World Trade Organisation director general Pascal Lamy. He added that he would return to Geneva to oversee fresh round discussions at negotiator level, and call ministers together again when enough progress has been made, however, he insisted he would only do that if and when the right moment arrived. “It won’t be tomorrow,” he said.

“I remain of the view that the round is doable, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” Lamy declared. Developing countries have to be convinced that there is more being offered by the major trade powers than before, he added.

Other ministers at the session agreed that the talks, considered a last-ditch effort to save the round launched at the end of 2001, had been successful in getting the process moving again after months of hiatus.

“We are now in the endgame. Either way, this is going to end in success or failure in the next two to three months,” said Peter Mandelson, a trade commissioner at Brussels’ European Commission. “It would be a terrible misjudgement if we allowed what we have now to slip away.”

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil called on the international business community to lobby leaders of rich countries to make concessions in the Doha round of negotiations for a world trade agreement. “If we want to give a signal to the poorest countries that they will have a chance in the 21st century, then the US, the United Kingdom, France and Germany must make concessions,” he said. “The US must reduce its agricultural subsidies, and Europe must ease access for various agricultural products.”

During a public presentation Lula assured participants that trade officials from the developing world would, in turn, show flexibility on issues of interest to the rich countries. “Brazil will make concessions to the best of its ability, and I will try to convince the members of the G20 (the coalition of developing world countries led by Brazil, India and South Africa) to do the same. But we have to get the US and the other rich countries to understand, or there will be no accord.”

Despite the physical location of the talks, some experts claim that there is little at stake for the Middle East in the Doha talks. “I think any Middle East angle is actually pretty tangential,” David Butter, editor of Business Middle East at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told Arabian Business. “The main issues we’re talking about are US farm subsidies, EU crop tariff reductions, and how far Brazil and India might open up their markets.

“The Doha round efforts, which were evident in Davos, were about issues that were not really of any critical interest to the Middle East,” he continued. “It’s not highly surprising, in that the Middle East is fairly small in terms of population in global terms, and it’s also extremely specialised in terms of where the bulk of its trade is involved.”

Butter also dismissed the meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni, as “a public relations event.”

“It’s a regular thing at Davos where they provide a stage for some kind of conflict resolution, but in terms of substance there’s very little out of Davos for the Middle East,” he concluded.

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