MON, 21 SEPT, 2020-theGBJournal-H.M. King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein of Jordan opened the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Impact Summit 2020 with a call for a Great Reset, urging drastic action to address problems laid bare and exacerbated by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“This crisis should also be seen as an opportunity for all of us – if we act decisively, and act together,” he said. “We must begin by rethinking our entire global system to become more integrated, resilient and just. A globalized world cannot thrive by leaving its most vulnerable communities behind. We are all in this together. And the sooner we realize it, the better.”
“The way forward must be rooted in a re-globalization that fortifies the building blocks of our international community by enabling our countries to strike a balance between self-reliance and positive-positive interdependence, enabling us all to jointly mark a holistic response to all crises facing our world,” he said. “A response that strengthens our global economy but also addresses inequalities. A response that leads to technological and industrial progress but also ensures the sustainability of our shared environment.”
In the summit’s opening session, panellists drew attention to a wide range of issues that can and must be addressed as the world remakes itself in the wake of the pandemic. Disruptions to supply chains – including massive shortages of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies in the early months of the outbreak – highlighted not only the fragility of intricate global systems dependent on unimpeded transport but also the fact that existing supply chains were built for convenience and are not human-centred, said Grace Forrest, Founding Director of the Walk Free Foundation. “Supply chains were built to be efficient, irrespective of the cost locally,” she said.
She called for more locally focused and more transparent supply chains that centre communities, commit to sustainability and remove obstacles to the full and free participation of women and girls, who make up over 70% of the victims of modern slavery. “We need to be honest that we cannot keep moving forward when so many people are being held back,” she said.
Agricultural practices by the world’s farmers cannot be changed through shifts in consumption alone, said Anushka Ratnayake, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of myAgro. “It’s not a secret that farmers need tools to adapt to outdated agricultural practices, given climate change, and until now most of that change has been pushed by the consumer. But to truly reset this, change needs to come and start from the farmers and we can help support them to do that by deeply listening,” she said.
Ratnayake warned of a looming food security crisis, “particularly in countries where we work where governments have created restrictions on travel or closed weekly markets, which is the main way that farmers earn money”. She said: “During the dry season there was a lot of hesitance to spend money and make investments in their farms and so I think in the next coming six to 12 months, food security is going to be our biggest crisis – maybe even ahead of COVID.”
Rebecca Masisak, Chief Executive Officer of TechSoup Global, stressed that technology can and must be part of the solution but that unequal access to technology has so far proved to be a big part of the problem, worsening societal divisions in a time when, due to the pandemic, reliance on digital connectivity has markedly increased.
“Bill Gates has talked about the wide availability of digital technology that allows sharing of information global collaboration as being a critical factor in the speed of innovation,” she noted, “but digital technologies simply are not yet widely available to civil society at the grassroots level. We must invest in the necessary infrastructure for innovation. We need to support civil society workers and their communities in making all they know available to each other, to governments to business, so that the Great Reset is, in fact, a reset, and is improving both justice and opportunity for all.”
Alain Bejjani, Chief Executive Officer of Majid Al Futtaim Holding, said his company has seized on the pandemic to aggressively move forward on eliminating plastics from production and packaging – a move he said that both customers and partner companies have quickly accepted.
Ivan Duque, President of Colombia, noted that although his country has faced a number of crises this year, including a massive inflow of refugees from neighbouring Venezuela, Colombia has managed to meet the challenges and substantially reopen its economy without ignoring environmental commitments.
He said that Colombia has increased its intensive care unit capacity from 5,000 to over 10,000 beds and has kept deaths and contagions per million to levels lower than those of many countries with higher per capita income. In spite of this, Duque said, “we have not left the green agenda behind; we have even accelerated it.”
Colombia has pledged to plant 180 million trees by August 2022 as part of the World Economic Forum’s Trillion Trees Initiative and is on track to plant 50 million this year despite the pandemic. Duque also highlighted the way that executing state priorities can actually advance sustainability goals. He cited as examples the efforts to stamp out cocoa cultivation, noting that each hectare of cocoa planted results in the destruction of three hectares of tropical jungle, as well as illegal cattle ranching and timber harvesting.
Duque also called for the creation of a credit market modelled on carbon credit markets and aimed at mobilizing global resources to protect the Amazon Basin.
“I think the Great Reset leaves us with the message that we have to find more humane solutions,” he said. “We have to acknowledge that whether it’s technology, whether it is with entrepreneurship, whether it’s through government, we all have to put the human being at the centre and that means the human being has to be more conscious about how to reduce the individual CO2 footprint, and at the same time, how they can all participate in building everlasting sustainable solutions.”
King Abdullah II captured the theme of the Sustainable Development Impact Summit well when he exhorted participants: “Instead of looking at problems to solve, I urge you to look at opportunities to seize and ways to collaborate to rebuild a truly global inclusive system that leaves no one behind.”
The fourth World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit comes at a time unlike any other. Under the theme, Realizing a Great Reset for Sustainable Development, this year’s summit brings together more than 3,800 leaders from government, business and civil society. From more than 141 countries, voices at the cutting edge of sustainable development are meeting virtually for the first time. They will share new perspectives to initiate, accelerate and scale-up entrepreneurial solutions that advance the Sustainable Development Goals and tackle climate change.