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Davos discusses the climate emergency

January 22, 2020, 11:08 AM UTC

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Good morning from Davos.

Climate change has a prominence in discussions at this year’s World Economic Forum that it hasn’t had since before the Great Recession. That’s not just because of the presence of young Greta Thunberg. Many of the CEOs gathered here—admittedly, a self-selected group—say the issue has moved up their priority list, in part because of the youth movement and pressure from employees, and also because it is beginning to have a direct effect on financial calculations.

Among those making the argument is BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, whose recent letter committed the giant money manager to putting environmental sustainability at the core of its investment decisions. “It’s very clear, we in the capital markets, we bring risks forward,” he said here. “We don’t wait until the risk is in front of us.” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also is spreading the message. His company made a pre-Davos pledge to eliminate its carbon footprint by 2030. Nadella will speak at the CEO dinner Fortune is hosting on Thursday.

(Microsoft, by the way, came in at number three on Fortune’s new list of the World’s Most Admired companies, and Nadella was cited as the “most underrated” CEO.)

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson also announced a bold environmental agenda yesterday, committing in a letter to a 50% reduction in carbon emissions, a 50% reduction in water withdrawal, and a 50% reduction in waste sent to landfills over the next 10 years. While such commitments can often be difficult to measure and monitor, KPMG CEO Lynne Doughtie told Fortune the trend toward making them is accelerating.

I spent some time yesterday with Svein Tore Holsether, the CEO of Norwegian-based fertilizer company Yara, which earned a past spot on Fortune’s Change the World list for its effort to improve agriculture in the developing world. He believes agriculture has an important role to play in the climate debate because it can not only reduce emissions, but also take carbon out of the atmosphere. “I am optimistic we are on the right track,” he told me, saying there is a new seriousness among companies on the issue, driven by pressure from their employees as well as by the prevalence of extreme weather events and the fires in Australia. “Inaction now will challenge our license to operate.”

The only discordant note on this topic in Davos came from President Trump, who in his speech here yesterday derided “the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse.”

More news below.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray
alan.murray@fortune.com

TOP NEWS

Bezos hack

Jeff Bezos's phone was allegedly hacked by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a couple years back, according to a digital forensic analysis that found evidence of spyware being implanted via a video file sent to the Amazon boss from MBS's personal WhatsApp account. All this preceded the Saudi killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist for Bezos's Washington Post—and the subsequent release of messages that exposed Bezos's extramarital relationship with Lauren Sanchez. Guardian

737 MAX

Boeing now says it only expects regulators to clear the 737 MAX for takeoff again somewhere around the middle of the year, at the earliest. The shift is reportedly characteristic of new CEO David Calhoun's new approach to estimating timescales, after his predecessor Dennis Muilenburg rubbed customers and regulators the wrong way by being overly optimistic. Wall Street Journal

Jaguar Land Rover

In more bad news for the U.K. auto sector, Jaguar Land Rover is cutting hundreds of jobs at its factory near Liverpool. JLR claims the move has nothing to do with Brexit, though unions have been quick to argue that the sector will remain in the doldrums until the government "ensures that there is long-term frictionless trade and no tariffs with the European Union along with meaningful investment in the infrastructure to ensure the success of electric vehicles." Liverpool Echo

Coronavirus Spread

The U.S. has its first case of the potentially deadly coronavirus that recently emerged in China, in the form of a man who travelled from Wuhan to Seattle last week before displaying symptoms. In China, there are now 440 confirmed cases and the death toll stands at nine, though the man who took it to the U.S. is apparently not very sick. Politico

Brainstorm A.I.

If you’re interested to learn how some of the biggest, most influential companies are strategizing about artificial intelligence, come to Fortune’s Brainstorm A.I. conference in Boston on April 27-28, 2020. A.I. is a game-changing technology that promises to revolutionize business, but it can be confusing and mysterious to executives. The savviest leaders know how to cut through the deluge of A.I. buzzwords and reap the technology’s benefits.

Attendees of this invite-only confab can take part in cutting-edge conversations with top corporate execs, leading A.I. thinkers, and power players. Among them: United States Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios; Accenture CEO Julie Sweet; Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford; Siemens U.S. CEO Barbara Humpton; Royal Philips NV CEO Frans van Houten; Landing AI founder and CEO Andrew Ng; Robust.AI founder and CEO Gary Marcus; and top machine learning experts from Bank of America, Dow, Verizon, Slack, Zoom, Pinterest, Lyft, and MIT. You can request an invitation here.

AROUND THE WATER COOLER

U.S. money

London's Blossom Capital has just raised $185 million to invest in early-stage startups. As Fortune's Jeremy Kahn notes, the move—which comes less than a year after Blossom raised $85 million for its first fund—shows how U.S. money continues to flow into Europe's startup scene. Fortune

Green business

Germany's Greens have moved from the political fringes to a position where they might plausibly take power, and that shift has also meant a greater willingness to engage with business. As the Financial Times reports, the Greens are these days open to ideas from industry about how to best tackle the climate emergency. FT

Online privacy

The U.K.'s privacy watchdog has issued a new "Age Appropriate Design Code" for social media sites, streaming services, Internet-connected toys and online games that might be used by children. The code of conduct will probably from next year be enforceable with large fines for breaches. BBC

Fender bender

The iconic guitar-maker Fender has been fined a record-breaking (for the U.K.) $5.9 million for forcing online retailers to sell its wares at or above a minimum price. The Competition and Markets Authority issued the penalty today, months after hitting keyboard and piano giant Casio with a $4.8 million fine for similar behavior. CMA

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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