‘Existential’ Climate Crisis Overshadows Davos Talks – Amid Concerns About AI and Antibiotic Resistance
Ajay Banga, World Bank CEO

“What we have is an existential climate crisis,” World Bank CEO Ajay Banga told the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting (WEF) in Davos on Wednesday.

“We cannot think of eradicating poverty without caring about climate. We cannot think of eradicating poverty without thinking about health. We cannot think of eradicating poverty without caring about food insecurity and fragility.”

Banga’s remarks aptly summed up the mood of the past two days at the WEF, as the climate crisis casting a shadow over almost every session.

United Nations (UN) Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke of a “global crisis in trust” caused by the “paradox” of “runaway climate chaos and the runaway development of artificial intelligence without guardrails”.

“As climate breakdown begins, countries remain hell-bent on raising emissions. Our planet is still heading for a scorching 3°C increase in global temperatures. Droughts, storms, fires and floods are pummelling countries and communities,” warned the UN head.

“The media has recently reported that the US fossil fuel industry has launched yet another multibillion dollar campaign to kneecap progress and keep the oil and gas flowing indefinitely. Let me be very clear again. The phase out of fossil fuels is essential and inevitable.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), told a meeting with private sector leaders that “the health impacts of the climate crisis are not theoretical risks in the future. They are right here and right now”.

He called on the private sector to assist with enabling access to financial resources, and using their innovation to address the crisis.

Money to address the effects climate of climate change could be redirected from the fossil fuel sector.

Direct fossil fuel subsidies add up to $1.3 trillion, according to Kristalinea Georgieva, managing director of IMF News.“Put it into climate action,” she urged. “Let us take money from where it hurts to where it helps.”

The threat and promise of AI

Meanwhile, Guterres warned that AI was a double-edged sword that could both address and deepen inequity, and that the UN had already made preliminary recommendations on AI governance to” tap the benefits of this incredible new technology while mitigating its risks”.

“We need governments urgently to work with tech companies on risk management frameworks for current AI development and on monitoring and mitigating future harms,” he warned.

However, Gianrico Farrugia, CEO of Mayo Clinic, said that it was not possible to wait until every AI-related concern had been addressed: “Why? Because the need is so big and therefore in healthcare, we have to embrace AI, while at the same time we work together on regulations.”

Farrugia added that, “unless you embrace the fact that AI is truly an opportunity to transform healthcare, we’ll be missing out a lot”.

Gianrico Farrugia, CEO of Mayo Clinic

For example, AI analysis of a “simple and cheap electrocardiogram” has enabled healthcare providers to predict heart failure five years ahead of symptoms, and ahead of conventional testing. 

“Other algorithms based on the same data are now being able to predict silent atrial fibrillation – heart arrhythmias, valvular heart disease.. But then most interestingly, liver doctors found they could diagnose liver disease from the same electrocardiogram. Blood doctors found they could diagnose blood disorders.”

Mayo Clinic now runs “about 200 algorithms every day”, and AI has transformed ”our ability to create better outcomes; our ability to increase productivity, and our ability to scale in ways we couldn’t do before”, he stressed.

Christophe Webe, CEO of Takeda Pharmaceuticals, said AI would enable his company to achieve an “overall 30% efficiency gain in a few years”, and “discover new molecules that don’t exist today”. 

Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said that it was possible to both harness “the potential that AI officers and have the guardrails in place” –  and the EU is the first place in the world to introduce an AI Regulation Act.

The European Union (EU) was using AI foremost to build a “European health data space” that would enable a patient’s records to be accessible at any healthcare facility in the EU, and also to track disease trends.

Paula Ingabire, Rwandan Minister of Information, Communication, Technology and Innovation, said that her country has been using drones to improve healthcare in hard-to-reach areas by, for example, collecting patient samples for testing.

Paula Ingabire, Rwandan Minister of Information, Communication, Technology and Innovation,

Meanwhile, Dr Jean Kaseya, head of Africa Centre for Disease Control, said that Africa was also planning to digitize data collection as part of its efforts to build pandemic preparedness, alongside improved early warning systems, better skilled health workers and multisectoral collaboration.

“We driven by the conviction that a healthier Africa is a healthier world for us all,” Kaseya told the WEF.

The ‘disastrously branded’ threat of antimicrobial resistance

Another lethal and growing threat is that posed by antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – and issue that has been hampered by “disastrous branding due to ambiguity”, according to the Global Fund’s Peter Sands.

The terminology needs to be sharpened to get the public involved. The global community is bad at dealing with creeping problems. By the time it becomes a blazing fire, it’s going to be really dangerous,” urged Sands.

AMR is already the third leading cause of death globally, disproportionately affecting women and children.

European Health Commissioner Kyriakides said that one in three European citizens were prescribed an antibiotic every day – with overuse being a key driver of resistance. In addition, some 40% of Europeans thought that antibiotics were effective against viruses, which they are not.

“The European Union (EU) has adopted guidelines to prevent the abuse and  misuse of antimicrobials, with targets and measurable goals,” said Kyriakides.

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