WEF at Davos 2022: From crypto to climate change, India was the focus

The first in-person annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos ended on Thursday. India was at the centre of many dialogues on emerging issues ranging from crypto technologies to climate change.

The global CEO of Saint Gobain, Benoit Bazin was extremely bullish about his company's growth story in India. The Euro 45 billion company sees India as its future growth driver for business and innovation. “We have a plan to invest more than Rs 55 billion in the next 4 years in India. India is not only important for Saint-Gobain in India but also for South East Asia and the rest of the world,” Bazin said. “India can be a critical country for solar energy. Now we are also investing in our sustainability agenda to make progress on reducing the carbon footprint for manufacturing in our latest plant in Vizag by using biomass.”

Sheila Warren, CEO of Crypto Council for Innovation (CCI) said, “The industry is at an inflection point. We have evidence that shows the value of blockchain-backed systems, including those that rely on crypto.” CCI is a global alliance of crypto industry leaders with a mission to demonstrate the transformational promise of crypto. Fidelity Investment and Andreesen Horowitz are among the supporters of CCI. Warren said that blockchain and crypto innovation from countries like India will change the business landscape.

Indian companies and government representatives made the most of the absence of Russian delegation and a surprisingly small Chinese presence of barely a dozen delegates. “In terms of numbers and specifically when it comes to government, we have record numbers from India,” said Sriram Gutta, head of India agenda at the Forum. “We currently work with many states on diverse initiatives, including food innovation and agri tech, advanced manufacturing and production, drones, and electric vehicles, among others.” More than one hundred Indian delegates which included CEOs, unicorn founders and political leaders were at Davos.

While Russia was denied participation at the Davos gathering, China's lockdown conditions prevented a large presence. China sent its smallest official delegation ever, amid stringent quarantine rules due to its zero-Covid policy and its unpopularity because of “pro-Russia neutrality”. China was represented in only four of more than 200 sessions at WEF.

The Beijing delegation was led by China's Special Representative for climate change Affairs Xie Zhenhua. He joined a panel of climate leaders, including US special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry and WEF president Børge Brende, to urge for climate action to keep global temperatures from rising within the 1.5-degree Celsius Paris Agreement target to prevent climate catastrophe.

Many observers noted the absence of China and the strong presence of India. “Xi's heavy-handed “Zero Covid” strategy has triggered serious discomfort among Western businesses,” an article in Politico noted. “The conversation has shifted dramatically from wary appraisals of China's strength to borderline panic about its fragility.”

David Rubenstein, co-founder of the private equity Carlyle Group, told Politico in Davos that “India has been more attractive [to buy assets] of late than China.”

The World Economic Forum (WEF) launched the India chapter of the Alliance of CEO Climate Action Leaders on Monday to supercharge India's climate action and decarbonisation efforts.

Part of the World Economic Forum's Climate Action Platform, the Alliance will continue efforts to achieve the vision outlined in the white paper released last year, Mission 2070: A Green New Deal for a Net Zero India, on India's low-carbon transition by 2070. It will bring together the government, businesses, and other key stakeholders to achieve the Indian prime minister's ambitious, five-part “Panchamrit” pledge, which includes the country's net-zero by 2070 target.

“As a major global economy, India's role in mitigating climate change is critical, and India Inc. must add its full weight to the country's efforts, as well to the global endeavour, against global warming,” said Sumant Sinha, co-Chair, Alliance of CEO Climate Action Leaders India, and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, ReNew Power.

A just transition could generate annual business opportunities worth over $10 trillion and create 395 million jobs by 2030 worldwide. India alone could see more than 50 million net new jobs and generate over $15 trillion in economic value. Conversations on water at the annual meeting led to substantive action on freshwater conservation and management.

Global conglomerate HCL announced a partnership with UpLink, the open innovation platform of the World Economic Forum that connects highly promising start-ups with the partners and funding they need to scale. Through a $15 million investment over five years, HCL will accelerate the innovation agenda for water and create a first-of-its-kind innovation ecosystem for the global freshwater sector on UpLink.

“Today, freshwater resources globally are extremely burdened, and every fifth child on this planet faces water scarcity,” said Roshni Nadar Malhotra, CEO of HCL Group and Chairperson of HCL Technologies.

Maharashtra, India's largest state in terms of GDP, joined the WEF's Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP). The economic powerhouse joins a growing list of global economies that will leverage the GPAP platform to drive localised solutions for the circular economy.

“This agreement with the World Economic Forum's Global Plastic Action Partnership marks a critical juncture in our state's battle against the plastic pollution endemic,” said Aaditya Thackeray, Minister of Environment and Climate Change for Maharashtra.

While the European political leadership was focused on the war in Ukraine, the business heads were eagerly scouting options for diversifying their trade and . For most of them India seemed the best option with political stability and reformist policies. The presence of central government ministers and five states that were competing for attention was perhaps the best symbol of India's aggressive positioning as an attractive investment destination and a rapidly growing market. Many global investors endorsed India's rising relevance in the world economy.

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