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Tackling deforestation and climate change through the supply chain

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has launched an initiative to promote business ventures that harness technology to tackle environmental problems. The 4IR for the Earth initiative aims to drive collaborations between technology entrepreneurs, environmental experts, policymakers and industry. The goal is to identify, fund and scale innovative new ventures, partnerships, as well as finance and policy instruments that harness Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) innovations to tackle environmental challenges.

4IR is an opportunity

The initiative, which is in partnership with Stanford University and PwC and has funding from the Mava Foundation, will identify the investment opportunities for commercial, impact and blended finance; supporting governments to develop policies; and assisting entrepreneurs to implement innovative solutions at scale.

The WEF's Dominic Waughray said: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution provides an opportunity to fix the world’s burgeoning environmental challenges – but they need to be tackled by design.” He added: “It is possible that a tipping point of widespread innovation to tackle some of the Earth’s most urgent challenges is within humanity’s grasp. There is great potential – and increasing interest – in exploring how innovations could also be applied to improve our environmental and natural resource security, including through technology and system innovations that we might not yet be able to even imagine.”

Business's role in curbing environmental impact

The announcement was made at at the World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit, which took place in New York on 18-19 September. The WEF underlined how it will be crucial for businesses and supply chains to engage with global initiatives to curb their environmental and social impacts in several areas:

1. Unintended damage caused by new technologies

New technologies could have unintended negative consequences for the environment and society. According to the WEF these could include e-waste and unsustainable demand for materials such as cobalt, nickel and lithium, through to biotech, or the potential for autonomous AI-powered drone fishing fleets to rapidly deplete global fishing stocks beyond recovery, for example. Tech companies are therefore under increasing scrutiny, as is the developing use of new technologies and the natural resources used as components.

2. Stop illegality in supply chains

Eliminating illegality from supply chains: businesses can and should support government law enforcement by improving the way in which legal compliance is monitored in their own supply chains. This is one of the 10 points listed by the WEF to stop tropical deforestation. Also listed in the plan are:

  • Redirecting finance towards deforestation-free supply chains: Shifting to deforestation-free agricultural investment presents a $200 billion annual opportunity by 2020, while mitigating reputational and stranded asset risks. Risk management policies and subsidy reform – especially in agricultural credit – are needed.
  • Improving the quality and availability of deforestation and supply chain data: More data must be collected and shared so that governments and companies can target and monitor their activities effectively.

PwC UK's Dr Celine Herweijer, partner, sustainability & climate change, said: “Companies are still in the early stages of grappling with what the 4th industrial revolution’s technological advances means for their business. The challenge for investors, entrepreneurs and governments is not just to help unlock technology breakthroughs for urgent challenges like climate change, but to mainstream the environmental and social impact considerations into wider technological advances. This means the positive impacts on people and the planet can be maximised.”

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