Artificial intelligence was the main topic of discussion at the many side events in Davos. (UBS)

The WEF is rarely a place of major commitments, unlike the UN conferences (for example, the recent COP28 in Dubai, which we covered in our Sustainable InSIghts series in November 2023), but policymakers, companies, and investors often look to the event for hints on annual priorities. In 2024, the WEF was all about AI and sustainability.

Environmental risks, reflected through extreme weather events, topped the table, once again reaffirming the importance of assessing and reflecting physical climate risks in business models and investment allocations. This was followed closely by risks posed by fake news, namely those related to AI-generated misinformation. Societal polarization came in third—potentially foreshadowing what will be a milestone election year around the world. Discussions at the flagship event, in fact, reflected these three points.

The geopolitical landscape and societal polarization largely underpinned the discussions in the main Congress center, with senior political leaders, such as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Chinese Premier Li Qiang, and French President Emmanuel Macron delivering special addresses and reflecting on a world in conflict. We think geopolitics are likely to remain prominent, with several open military conflicts and with almost half of the global electorate casting a vote this year. For investors, including those focused on sustainability, increasing priorities around domestic investments and manufacturing, coupled with potential shift from commitments to implementation within climate policies, will mean continued capital deployment into homegrown green technologies and supply chains, in our view.

Artificial intelligence was the main topic of discussion at the many side events in Davos, led by companies in the midst of AI integration; nonprofits concerned about ethics and safety of AI implementation; and investors looking to capitalize on the AI-driven capital market rally. The topic of sustainability, which traditionally dominates WEF discussions, was closely intertwined with AI and geopolitics across main-stage and sidebar conversations. We think the increasing adoption of AI can support an acceleration in sustainable development, with examples including power grid optimization, climate modeling, smart agriculture, and data center energy use optimization to ensure effective and tracked progress on decarbonization; support in drug discovery and improved accessibility within healthcare; and improvements in education delivery and tailored education.

As the WEF left Davos for another year, we look to an eventful 2024 where we see investor attention broadening beyond the energy transition, with increasing focus on using technology for impact delivery, measurement, and broader transparency.

Investor takeaways

  • Geopolitics are likely to remain prominent, but we think it is important to disconnect investment decisions from politics. Narratives around this flagship election year are likely to center on homegrown industries and investments, particularly within our "Smart mobility" and "Clean air and carbon reduction" themes.
  • AI can be a critical enabler of sustainable development, in our view, favoring critical investments in our "Education technologies," "Medical devices," and "Food revolution" themes, as well as the energy transition more broadly.
  • Looking ahead, we expect 2024 to continue to favor companies that effectively manage critical sustainability-related risks, such as physical and transition climate risk, particularly within ESG leaders, ESG improvers, and ESG engagement strategies.

Main contributors: Antonia Sariyska and Amantia Muhedini

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