ENGIE at Davos: reducing the economic, climatic and social imbalances born out of the current growth model
The tensions the world is experiencing today are the cause of numerous fractures, be they economic, political or social. They express an aspiration for a change of model, in favor of one that is more egalitarian, incisive and harmonious, combining collective, individual and environmental interests. What to remember from the Davos Forum? The answer in an interview with Isabelle Kocher, CEO of ENGIE, for whom economic growth and quality of life can go again hand-in-hand.
Article published on LinkedIn on January 22, 2018, on the occasion of the World Economic Forum at Davos.
For the first time in the history of Davos, it was chaired exclusively by women. Is this symbolic or are times changing?
Choosing to entrust the roles of co-chairs of the World Economic Forum to seven women was clearly no coincidence, coming at a time when the issue of women’s place is such a hot topic of discussion. It was more than symbolic; it was a powerful gesture that will help get people used to seeing women in positions of power.
The choice of personages was also a sign of Davos becoming more open to the world. It was a very savvy mix, with representatives from the worlds of business, politics, and of social and economic solidarity. Alongside Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, there were Ginni Rometty, President and CEO of IBM, as well as Chetna Sinha, who launched microcredit in India. Chetna shared her particularly interesting experience at the Forum’s opening session; she explained how transformative it is for village and community life when women are given the opportunity to engage in business, even just by having access to a bank account. The multiplication of such initiatives will help us collectively reduce the world’s fractures, which was precisely the Davos theme.
This year’s summit was very political. We saw several European leaders take the floor, one after the other, before the highly-anticipated arrival of the American president. Did you get the feeling, on the scene, that you were experiencing a “clash of civilizations” between Europe and the United States?
The value of a summit like Davos lies in bringing together people with different points of view to meet one another.
In my opinion, it’s a good thing that the American president came to Davos, because it’s in everyone’s interest for the conversation – on all topics, including the most delicate ones – to continue uninterrupted. It was also quite an occasion, since no American president has attended Davos since 2000.
President Emmanuel Macron’s speech was also one of the main events at Davos. I took away a few strong messages from it: the call to accelerate the fight against global warming, the appeal to businesses and governments to protect the common good, but also the need to invest in human capital and give meaning to growth. These are messages that the ENGIE Group also wants to send and messages that are reflected in our transformation and strategy.
What can we expect from this type of summit in the campaign against global warming?
You should first bear in mind that, beyond the Davos summit – which is the high point, so to speak – the WEF brings various stakeholders together throughout the year for working groups on defined topics. ENGIE contributed to three of them, on shaping the future of energy, digital society and the future of mobility. Although it is true that the WEF is not where decisions are made, it shows the value of “powering up” various stakeholders, pushing them to think and act together.
As for the campaign against climate change, we are obviously very far from what we want and from what was signed in the Paris Agreement: we are not on track for a two-degree rise, but rather a three-and-a-half-degree rise. So there is a real issue of alacrity and taking things to a new level.
In my opinion, the challenge now lies in identifying all the obstacles, all the roadblocks, and tackling them one by one. This is, in part, what we were working on in the several panels in which I participated this week. Take one example: solar projects under development in Africa, where there is a real problem of energy access, are too small to interest financial institutions, or even utility companies. We are all used to building a small number of huge plants, and we need to be able to switch to a more decentralized model.
Another roadblock is the price of carbon, which is still too low. Broadly speaking, market signals are not there yet.
What is your take-away from the Davos summit?
We heard from two schools of thought this week. Some are saying, “Growth is picking up again, so let’s keep doing what we’re doing, let’s not change anything.” And then others say “Let’s leverage this growth that’s picking up again, which is giving us extra room for maneuver, to change the model. Because the current model is not sustainable, inclusive or inspiring.”
The theme of Davos serves as a wake-up call. WEF says, “The world is fractured, we urgently need to build a new model.” In my opinion, the fact that growth is picking up again should not make us forget the fact we have actually reached many limits: we aren’t at two degrees yet, and look at the wave of populist sentiment, the rising inequality and the issue of migrations… Many people no longer see themselves reflected in the current model, and are showing signs of impatience.
So we should promote models that reconcile value creation with a positive social impact. This is the model ENGIE champions: that of harmonious progress, allowing us to generate growth and, at the same time, meet those innermost desires expressed by an increasing segment of the population.