"New growth model. Now." By Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action
In recent weeks, media has been reporting that mankind will pass another significant milestone in 2011. This year the global population will reach 7 billion. That is more than four times as many people as a hundred years ago. And although this is in many ways good news, it also compels us to ponder on our way of living.
The population will continue to rise for some time to come. And when we reach the middle of the century, we will be 9 billion people on the planet. But as a researcher recently pointed out, we will eat for 12 billion by then due to welfare improvements.
The pressure on our shared resources will grow exponentially. And at the same time we notice already today that we are reaching the limits of how much we can strain our natural surroundings.
This is the case with the climate, where the New Year has already brought mudslides in Brazil and floods in Australia and the Philippines – along with the news that 2010 (along with 2005) was the hottest year since we started measuring systematically in the 19th century.
But it is also the case in many other areas. Take fish stocks which are decreasing around the world because more fish are being caught than the stocks can manage to reproduce. Take grain prices which have surged lately due to rising demand and scarce supply, in part caused by weather-related catastrophes. Or take oil which now costs just around $ 100 per barrel – at a time where we can barely see the end of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. According to the International Energy Agency the EU received an additional bill of $70 billion in 2010 due to rising oil prices.
Over the past 200 years, the growth model of Industrial Society has created enormous material benefits to large parts of mankind. But it happened during a time when there were significantly less people. And anyone can see that we cannot deal with the challenges of the 21st century with a growth model from the 19th and 20th century. At the same time, we know that it will be extremely expensive to solve the problems if we wait until the last minute.
The World Economic Forum is usually a good opportunity to discuss the important challenges and the broad lines of development. And the question of how we can create genuine, sustainable growth will be central to this year's agenda. Hopefully, it will not only be the frontrunners, but also others, who will have the courage to discuss just that. Nothing is more important right now. Not for politicians. And certainly not for business.