In keeping with previous years, the content discussed and delivered at GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum 2018 was based around key thematic clusters. What follows are summaries of talking points, important comments, photographs and social media commentaries related to panels covering: future sustainable mobility; the current and future state of the global economy; energy transition; the digital energy revolution; the power and influence of modern companies; new technologies and the labour market; climate change; and disruptive tech.

Future Sustainable Mobility – Balancing Electric Vision with Incremental Reality

Cars spend only 5% of their time on the road, a statistic which begs several questions. Do we really need cars? Should we change the way we use transport? And what investments should be made to achieve cleaner CO2-free air?

These were among the issues discussed at the GLOBSEC Sustainability Platform: Future Sustainable Mobility – Balancing Electric Vision with Incremental Reality, a closed-door session led by Professor Alan Riley. Participants included State Secretary of the Ministry of Environment of Slovakia Norbert Kurilla and Michael Warner of Change and Drive, a startup that develops electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in the Nordic countries.

Participants agreed that it is time for fresh thinking regarding Europe’s energy needs. A fully equipped infrastructure for alternative cars (such as a charging stations network) and increased use of alternative fuels (e.g. biofuels) for specific means of transport were among the innovations discussed. Concerns were nevertheless raised over the lack of infrastructure for alternative vehicles as well as the technical challenges associated with biofuel production.

Additional key talking points included:

  • The need to factor energy into city design and architecture, urban transportation, eco-promotion and more
  • Why it is important to analyse the future energy mix on a country-by-country basis
  • The need for vision-oriented regulatory frameworks concerning technological advances and innovations in the transport sector Why technological advances in the transportation sector
  • The case for stable and long-term investment in the EU’s energy requirements
  • The European Commission’s inability to advance and introduce clean mobility packages and other regulations that support engineering technologies in the energy sector

Global Economy: How Fair & Free Can Trade Be?

This panel began by emphasising that the main reason behind the current surge in populism is migration. Guests were also warned that Europe’s shrinking population and conflict hot spots will only increase support for populist politicians and their rhetoric over the coming years. Free and equitable trade, as well as fresh thinking on aid and education were among the solutions proposed for alleviating migration pressures.

Rising inequality has also ushered the return of isolationist tendencies around the world. Put simply, the current concentration of wealth is politically unsustainable and one of the main causes of inequality is free trade. Populists promise a return to a bygone era with a set of ‘’me first’’ policies.

Participants were adamant that neither isolationism nor populism will undo the current economic structure and will only weaken states that adopt such policies. What’s needed is greater redistribution of resources and more equitable terms and conditions for trade. In response, members of the audience suggested that inequality is mostly the result of a changing economic structure and as such is possibly unavoidable.

Panelists also spent a lot of time discussing the shortcomings of the European Union (EU), specifically its lack of coherence and lengthy decision-making processes. To this end, if the EU wants to become a bona fide geopolitical power it needs to adjust its political organisation and become more unified in the process. It remains to be seen whether all member states buy into this vision.  want that.

Energy Transition to the Post Oil Era: Sharing the Know-how

Among the main takeaways from this session were:

  • The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will most likely use its upcoming meeting to balance the global oil market
  • Geopolitical tensions are among the reasons behind the current high price of oil
  • Oil producing countries need to start investing into capacity to meet growing demand
  • Some countries, including UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia have some spare capacity but this might not be enough
  • Shale oil production might help to alleviate problems

Participants were also reminded that the United Arab Emirates has begun to invest heavily in clean energy (primarily solar energy). The country is also building a city based entirely on renewable energy, particularly for transportation. Electricity for the new city will also come from renewable sources and supplemented by gas turbines.

Keeping Pace with the Digital Energy Revolution

Main takeaways from this session include:

  • Energy companies are increasingly factoring technological advances such as data mining into their business models
  • Technology helps to optimise energy usage
  • When it comes to investments in infrastructure and R&D, Europe is behind other parts of the world
  • Energy-related technology transfers to developing countries might help them to leapfrog key development stages

“If Slovakia won’t switch manufacturing petrol and diesel vehicles to e-mobility, it will become the Detroit of Europe.”
Vazil Hudák, Vice President, European Investment Bank

Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and data analytics are major trends which will both disrupt and reshape how the energy sector works today and in the future. Energy companies are now becoming more diversified and do not rely on a single energy product. There is an ongoing expansion into adjacent business models such as nonconventional distribution and renewables.

The abovementioned advances will also reshape how we consume and produce energy. For instance, Shell is using AI to predict wind for optimisation and pricing of electricity generated by its wind turbines. The company also collects data about consumer energy usage through its application for managing utility bills. Such developments are reshaping the competencies required to work in the energy sector, with traditional engineers being replaced by IT specialists and statisticians.

Unfortunately, R&D across Europe is lacking, and some crucial technologies are almost absent. State funding and support is unlikely to bridge the gap. This is a major concern for Europe’s car industry, which must transfer towards electromobility or risk becoming obsolete. This is a major concern for Slovakia, which risks becoming the Detroit of Europe.

Audience members also highlighted the privacy issues related to energy companies’ collection and analysis of customer data. It was also note that technological progress also harms energy efficiency, especially when it comes to generating something as ‘useless’ as Bitcoin.

The Role of 21st Century Companies in Achieving the UNSDGs

Key talking points:

  • Even advanced states like Canada are struggling to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs)
  • Companies have an important role to play in fostering sustainable development, which also appeals to investors

Take the case of the tobacco industry, where companies are now investing in the development of healthier products that causes less damage to users. This has been accompanied by initiatives that encourage farmers to not only increase their crops but also to diversify into food production.  Corporations are also providing vital support for reaching specific goals, such as SDG 16 which promotes access to justice for all and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Audience members were nevertheless interested in why companies now engage in behaviours that run counter to profit maximisation. It was suggested that working with the UNSDGs helps to develop new business models and disrupt the market which can bring significant benefits.

Transformation via Innovation – New Technologies and the Labour Market

Important talking points from this panel include:

  • The 9 – 5 job is dead. We can work flexibly and from anywhere we like
  • New technologies should benefit whole societies and not just certain sectors or subgroups
  • Further education and reskilling will be required to fill the open positions of tomorrow
  • Public-private partnerships will help to provide populations with the competencies to work with new technologies
  • Gender imbalance, ageism and a false sense of elitism continues to plague the Information Technology sector

The final point provided plenty of food-for-thought. For instance, some participants thought the lack of women in IT could be attributed to societal trends. As for ageism, this is simply a (false) stereotype – there is no correlation between age and the willingness to learn a new skill. It was also suggested that those with a less advanced education stand to benefit the most from the creation of new sectors, with cheaper (sometimes free) micro-degrees giving them the tools to fill niche roles.

It was also noted that acceleration of technological advancement will 1000 times greater over the next hundred years compared to the previous century. And remember, we didn’t have televisions, air travel or the internet 100 years ago. So, it is entirely possible that we are on the cusp of new era in which the need for new jobs and skills will be faster than our ability to retrain people from ‘older’ or obsolete sectors.

Paris Minus Washington – Climate Change Persists

Key talking points include:

  • Climate change is accelerating. An appropriate and global response is required
  • The United States’ decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is highly problematic
  • Public and private funding for green projects should be increased

Participants suggested that, in the face of an increasingly erratic and unpredictable United States, the European Union must assume a leading role in promoting responsible energy and environmental policies that help to mitigate climate change. One way that the EU can lead by example is by talking to local US administrations, thereby bypassing the current administration.

“We want to live in a carbon-free world in the 2nd half of the 21st century.”
Maroš Šefčovič, Vice President for Energy Union, European Commission

Beyond Survival: Disruptive Tech Managing Migration

How can technology be used to tackle issues related to migration? What role can technology play in the distribution of humanitarian aid and activities associated with refugee camps? What smart solutions have already been developed to manage migratory flows, urbanisation and related issues? These were just some of the questions tackled in this panel, which featured Kilian Kleinschmidt, founder and CEO of the Innovation and Planning Agency (Vienna).

As he sees it, disruptive technologies can help to give refugees back their dignity by providing them with opportunities to move beyond meeting basic survival needs. To support this argument, Kleinschmidt demonstrated how the city of Amsterdam’s planning agencies have utilised big data and digital space planning to develop and transform form refugee camps into sustainable settlements, an initiative that has also benefitted the host country.

Interestingly, Kleinschmidt declared that while we have solutions for practically every problem, few are universally shared.

Supercompanies: Partners in Leadership

Main takeaways from this panel include:

  • While many governments think they are smarter than business, businesses worry that if they get too close to governments they will be over-regulated
  • Governments need the data, knowledge and expertise provided by supercompanies to make informed decisions

Most issues are so large and multifaceted that no one government can deal with them on their own. From big data collection to streamlining services, many administrations are becoming increasingly wise to the fact that they lack the resources and wherewithal to independently enact meaningful change. To this end, so-called supercompanies can act as a bridge between the public and private sector and develop solutions in partnership with governments.

Take the example of mass unemployment, a problem with the potential for wider social unrest. Thanks to their presence in markets around the world, supercompanies are ideally placed to advise governments on how their counterparts have tackled unemployment issues and offer insight for policymaking purposes. Such a relationship also reflects that it will most often be the private sector that offers new employment opportunities, another factor that can help to prevent discontent.

What’s needed, according to the participants, is the building of common trust between corporations and the governments around the world. A considerable amount of damage was done by the Snowden revelations, meaning that it will take time to repair public-private relations. If governments and supercompanies can find ground to rebuild common trust, then many of the problems which seem insurmountable today could be solved in the future.