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Stakeholder Capitalism

Taking Action for the Ocean: World Economic Forum Panel Discussion

Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff speaks on a panel discussion on the oceans in Davos.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), oceans could contribute $3 trillion annually in value added to the global economy by 2030, supporting close to 40 million full-time jobs. How can the world tap into the ocean economy while protecting it from environmental collapse? What are the real threats to our oceans and how can we move to protect them? These were among the topics discussed in a panel discussion titled “Taking Action for the Ocean” on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Marc Benioff, co-CEO of Salesforce, was on the panel, which was moderated by Francine Lacqua, Bloomberg News Anchor. Other panelists included: Michelle Bachelet, Former President of Chile; Al Gore, Former Vice President of the United States; Enric Sala, Explorer-in-Residence, National Geographic Society, USA; and Nina Jensen, CEO of Revocean.

Gore opened the panel, calling the current environmental situation a “true, full-blown global emergency.” Sala noted that problems facing the oceans are difficult to overstate. “We are in the casino in the Titanic, trying to make as much money as possible after hitting the iceberg,” he said. More than half of the surface of the ocean is targeted by industrial fishing, he said, adding that 90 percent of large fish in the ocean are gone. “We ate them in the last 100 years,” he said. By 2040, he said, climate changes and global warming will cause there to be no sea ice in the Arctic during the summer months.

Gore said that by 2050 the weight of the plastic in the ocean will exceed the weight of fish if the current trend continues. An estimated 90% of the plastics going into the ocean come from ten rivers. “We need to manage rivers and get plastic waste out of rivers before it reaches the oceans," Benioff said, calling plastic the “nuclear waste of this generation.”

“I don’t think I have seen a single issue like plastics, where companies, business leaders, governments are coming together to really try to solve it,” Jensen said.

Benioff discussed how some emerging technologies could be used to harm the oceans, particularly autonomous vehicles designed for seabed mining. “Currently underway there are quite a few companies that are assembling these incredible new Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to create vehicles that will do seabed mining. Seabed mining is the pursuit of all these kind of precious stones and minerals and gases and all the things they’d like to go find in the ocean. They are assembling these vehicles now. Once they disappear under the water, nobody is going to exactly know where they are. As they are digging and grinding things up and chewing up the bottom of the ocean, we’re going to get all these toxic plumes that are going to be coming up.” He said these activities could be among the most devastating things that ever happened to the oceans.

What actions will make a difference for protecting the oceans? Gore noted that it is never too late to do so, and pointed to policy changes. “We are subsidizing the burning of fossil fuels,” he said. “Taxpayers around the world are being forced to subsidize burning of fossil fuels at a rate 38 times larger than the amount of money that’s used to encourage the shift to carbon-free energy.”

As President of Chile, Bachelet set specific policies to protect the oceans. “What we need when we address climate change and ocean preservation is a change in behavior,” she said. “We need to educate people. That’s why we started including curriculum in schools, at the early stages, on education on environmental issues.”

“We have all of the solutions and tools we need to save the oceans, to stabilize the climate, to save the future. We just have to decide to do it,” Gore stated.

Benioff, the founder of the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California, Santa Barbara, noted that increased innovation and philanthropy are essential to protecting the oceans and planet.

“We need more research,” he said. “We see a lot of philanthropy and people who want to launch themselves into space and build a colony on Mars. We have a lot of work to do right here on planet earth before we dump billions of dollars into that.”

If everyone knew how serious this problem is, said Jensen, everyone would become activists. “Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something,” she said.

One good sign is that government coalitions, such the G7 and G20, have made climate and the oceans a priority. While having resolutions to address the problem are indispensable, Bachelet said, they need mechanisms for accountability.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore discusses what is needed to protect our oceans.

“We have a lot of good leaders around the world and we are seeing some regional and state governors and mayors picking up the mantle of leadership that has been dropped by some heads of nation states,” Gore said. “But ultimately it comes back to the people demanding the kind of leadership that humanity deserves. The younger generation is demanding a better world and rising up.”

Watch the full panel discussion above. Nine other panel discussions in Davos Thursday are to address the many threats facing our oceans, and activate business leaders across the world to use business as a platform for good. Follow the sessions here.


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