The World Economic Forum has been convening leaders to promote multilateralism and multistakeholder solutions to global challenges since its first Annual Meeting in Davos in 1971, more than 50 years ago. Multilateralism means not only agreeing on a set of global principles and rules, but also drawing on the diverse knowledge, strengths and perspectives from different sides to quickly turn new knowledge into collective action.
At this year's Annual Meeting, taking place in May 2022 after more than two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, alignment and cooperation across countries, companies and civil society groups is more needed than ever. Perhaps even more importantly, leaders need a trusted space to air differences and do the hard work of seeking common ground.
Due to the intensive management of the ongoing Covid-19 situation in China, fewer representatives from China will be in attendance on the ground this year. Nonetheless, Chinese stakeholders are at the table when it comes to many of the key priorities on the Davos agenda, most notably on climate action, represented by Xie Zhenhua, China's Special Envoy on Climate.
Chinese business leaders ranging from state-owned enterprises to major financial exchanges to technology leaders will share how they are helping to drive the clean energy transition, bring Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) reporting to the mainstream in China and make technological breakthroughs more widely available across society.
Five years ago in 2017, when President Xi Jinping attended for the first time, he placed great emphasis on shared responsibility to promote global growth. In January of this year, he joined the Forum's virtual Davos Agenda and further reiterated the importance of global collaboration. Moreover, he introduced the Global Development Initiative (GDI) and a call for all partners to "jointly translate the initiative into concrete actions and make sure that no country is left behind."
China's Global Development Initiative for solving global problems
The GDI is a timely call-for-action to address the immediate challenges that threaten our collective ability to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in just eight years' time. Today, no country can face global challenges alone. Disasters, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, climate action failure, and the war in Ukraine, show us that a lack of global collaboration and multilateralism are the true barriers to overcome, not the technological or adaptive challenges.
Reflecting on the eight priority areas of the Global Development Initiative, and responding to President Xi Jinping's appeal to "translate the initiative into concrete actions", some early examples are emerging of how a multilateral and multistakeholder effort can work to identify and implement solutions.
Equitable vaccine access
This is one of the priority agenda points for Global Development Initiative. We applaud China's effort to make vaccines for the global public good by contributing to existing global multilateral mechanisms – a $100 million pledge to Gavi, COVAX and continuous commitments to assist at least 53 countries with vaccines.
There is a window of opportunity for vaccine manufacturing in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) to harness political and financial commitments to rebalance global manufacturing capacity. However, such partnerships rely on a complex, globalised ecosystem which requires the coordination of multiple stakeholders if they are to thrive and be sustainable. The Forum's Vaccine Manufacturing Collaborative helps to provide a neutral "exchange platform" to discuss existing initiatives and work collectively to find synergies and overcome shared challenges.
Protecting and managing natural resources
Another key element of the Global Development Initiative focuses on the urgent needs of developing countries in managing natural resources and achieving harmony between humans and nature, and how to finance this endeavour. Avoiding climate and energy transition risks and improving outcomes for sustainable economies and societies is a goal for all of us.
Globally, the Forum is working with partners from government, business and civil society to develop innovative financial instruments and business models to demonstrate and commercialize green technologies across borders and facilitate the transition of hard-to-abate industry activities, such as energy, materials and mobility.
In China and in emerging economies along the Belt and Road, the Forum will leverage our cross-industry expertise to create a dedicated Carbon Neutrality Community and set of initiatives as part of the wider Climate Action Platform. We hope that findings from our recent insight report, Advancing the Green Development of the Belt and Road Initiative: Harnessing Finance and Technology to Scale Up Low-Carbon Infrastructure, can offer a contribution to low-carbon development in diverse countries along the Belt and Road.
Meanwhile, on the nature side of the green development equation, the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA), a coalition supported by the Forum, serves as an impartial platform for public-private partnership to promote targets of food system resilience, livelihood support, and climate change across the value chain.
The Forum brings this expertise to China through a partnership with the Foreign Environmental Cooperation Center of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment to map out a national strategic framework on green value chains, facilitating developing countries, particularly tropical countries, to strengthen their resilience and synergy on conservation and rural smallholder development through bilateral and multistakeholder dialogues.
Prioritizing digital inclusion
On the topic of digital economy, consider this striking statistic: 47% of people in the world are not using the internet. The cost of available broadband exceeds affordability targets in 50% of developed countries; affordable usage remains a challenge in even the most advanced countries. Thus, we fully agree with the GDI's priority that digital economy and digital inclusion is foundational to inclusive economic growth, social equity and the SDGs – unlocking transformational outcomes across every sector, including: efficient and accessible healthcare; equitable education; financial inclusion; healthy small, medium and micro businesses; and food security.
This is why the Forum has launched global initiatives such as the EDISON Alliance, which brings together existing and new coalitions of public, private and social sector organizations who are each contributing genuinely impactful projects in the domain of increased access and inclusive design of digital technologies.
The Forum commends the efforts that China has made to address these complex topics related to the digital economy. Given China's success in bringing 1 billion citizens online over the past decades, there is surely much to learn and share in this type of initiative. Moreover, there is a great opportunity for China to demonstrate the value of a connected health system and to pioneer solutions in digital health that other regions can learn from.
We firmly believe that a multilateral approach is a foundational requirement to resolve the challenges and difficulties of global security, economic and social development. Constant communication, increasing systematic conversations and exchange of ideas are necessary in the current environment.
We hope that initiatives such as the Global Development Initiative and the combined efforts of Chinese and global stakeholders from government, business and civil society could help to accelerate joint problem-solving and a renewed multilateralism to advance progress on the SDGs and provide a pathway to a more peaceful and prosperous world.
Rebecca Ivey is Chief Representative Officer, China Office, World Economic Forum Beijing