Climate Change Takes Center Stage in Davos

A group of about 20 large chemical companies is working on low-carbon technologies, like making chemicals from carbon dioxide and biomass, said Martin Brudenmuller, chief executive of the German chemical company BASF.

Mr. Brudenmuller also said another large coalition in the sector was working on the plastic waste problem, with BASF turning discarded plastic into raw materials for its plants. Mr. Brudenmuller cautioned that such problems, which involve not only new technologies but also organizing the collection and sorting of waste, are so complex and globe-spanning that only an effort of similar scope will succeed in solving them.

“A collaborative effort of companies, governmental and nongovernmental organizations as well as civil society is necessary to address the global challenge of mismanaged waste,” Mr. Brudenmuller wrote in an email.

Awareness of these issue may be growing, but with global emissions continuing to rise governments are falling short on tackling them, according to a pre-conference report issued by the World Economic Forum. Many businesses, too, are failing to set effective targets, the report said. In 2006, Nicholas Stern was the chief author of a seminal study for the British government that set out the case for acting on climate change. More than a decade later, as he prepared to attend the 50th gathering in Davos, Lord Stern, chairman of the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics, said there were reasons to be encouraged and to worry.

He said that the costs of wind and solar technology had fallen much more rapidly than anticipated. Electric vehicles, he said, were also making more rapid progress than expected, with most automakers talking about the end of the era of the internal combustion engine.

Such advances, he said, are opening attractive opportunities for investors and creating jobs.

He also said the growing activism of young people was crucial in pushing their elders to enact change. “Business people really feel that,” including those who attend Davos, he said, adding that he hoped such pressures would push companies into making commitments on emissions reduction at the meeting.

On the other hand, he said that the world had been slow to act and each report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations agency that tracks emissions, was more worrying than the last.