Three reports, all with an alarming message, show that we are running out of time for discussion and that it is time to start acting. Leaves us to wonder why still nothing happens.

First, the Global risk report. In this annual report, published for the first time in 2007, respondents are asked what they think are the most important global risks for society and which of these will have the most (economic) impact. For the second time, climate action failure is considered to be the most prominent risk in terms of impact. For the first time, however, all the risks stated in the report in terms of likelihood are environmental. Risks have turned green and that is not a good sign. Also, the macro-economic risks have become bigger. Geopolitical tensions, the limited room to maneuver for fiscal and monetary authorities, and increasing inequality are topics also signaled in the report.

A second report by consultancy agency PWC and WWF about the relation between biodiversity and the financial sector was presented this week in Davos. The title, Nature is too big to fail, is of course a reference to the Global Financial Crisis, when financial institutions were deemed too big to fail and governments had to step in to prevent a total meltdown of the financial sector. The risk of a meltdown of our biosystem, in terms of lost biodiversity, might now even be bigger. The report states that it is a responsibility of the financial sector, just as with climate change, to channel capital flows in such a way that they do not lead to more biodiversity loss. In the typical Davos-way, everything is translated into financial risks, including nature. Even though I agree with the report’s conclusion, I think it is madness that we have come to the point that we (have to) translate nature and our environment into risks. They are the essential conditions of our being and therefore priceless

The third report, the Circularity Gap Report by consultancy agency Circle Economy, shows that despite all the attention in political and academic circles to the idea of a circular economy, the world has become less circular, with only 8.6% of all resources being reused. At the same time, according to a calculation in the report, the global economy is consuming 100 billion tons of materials a year for the first time ever.

Fundamental change

The reports clearly show that the world is in dire straits. And although the corporate front runners and most policy makers in Davos hold great speeches and solemnly pledge to make their company or country more sustainable (except for one), it is simply not enough. Because one crucial issue is still not discussed in Davos. This is my question to those who are gathered there: shouldn’t we change our current economic system in a more fundamental way to get back and stay within nature’s limits? A difficult but very urgent discussion, with many related questions. Do we need more production? What is the role of taxing? How do we stimulate and increase inclusion and reduce inequality? How do we see and measure progress? But perhaps this is asking too much of leaders with tight schedules gathering in a beautiful Swiss mountain area. Doing a little speeching and pledging and then quickly back to business.

Until the alarm bells toll again in the next editions of the above-mentioned reports and Davos is taken over again for three days with the same fruitless discussions, meaningless speeches and hollow pledges. But maybe I’m being too cynical here. Maybe this time, in 2020, the alarm bells are heard loud and clear and the right discussion starts, and the right measures are taken. Maybe next year we can say that Davos 2020 marked the beginning of transformational change.