I have attended the World Economic Forum meeting six times in the past 8 years. A recurring theme has been that our planet faces major environmental, social and political shifts and world leaders in attendance have increasingly continued to seek answers on ways to effectively reduce the risks and existential threats we face.
This year from January 21st to 24th, The World Economic Forum’s 50th Annual Conference in Davos, Switzerland will unite over 2,000 leaders from across the globe to discuss and share ideas and solutions surrounding this year’s theme: Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World.
Speakers and attendees will highlight the most pertinent issues facing our planet, specifically focusing on topics that give a new meaning to “stakeholder capitalism”, providing support to governments and international institutions in tracking progress on the Paris Agreement and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and facilitating discussions on technology and trade governance.
While the sectors under examination vary in function, one sector offering some profound solutions to the conference’s outlined topics lies beyond Earth and with space.
Not only does the space industry have unique capabilities to help reshape our footprint in the solar system, I believe it can also reshape global issues, offering more cohesive improvements within the conference’s six key focus areas:
Economy & Industry
According to financial experts, the NewSpace sector is estimated to exceed a $1 trillion of market value by 2040. Economies across the world will evolve from new products, massive infrastructure and transportation projects and the need for more jobs to create them. Some analysts believe that the rise of commercial human spaceflight will drive the development and growth of commercial space stations through companies like Axiom and Bigelow, for instance. Others think future economic growth lies from “downstream” applications driven by space based data collection of the Earth.
In the past, The World Economic Forum has predicted that five industries including transportation, construction, energy, mining and hospitality and real estate would be the first to enter and help revolutionize the space industry. The industrial companies that have the foresight to view space as an intersectional industry will stay ahead of the curve and help drive economic benefits. While the global economy is theoretically limited, we can enhance our potential for economic growth by thinking beyond our home planet.
Space technologies have already improved life on Earth, giving us the power of everyday devices like GPS and cell phone data via satellites. Already, emerging companies in the field are developing new technologies, with the help of manufacturing, automation and consumer sectors to harness the industry’s potential. Private companies, for example, have created networks or “constellations” of satellites that can perform formerly inconceivable experiments and data transmission activities.
NASA alone creates over 1,600 new technologies each year and since that’s just one organization (albeit a large and well-funded one) within the space sector, the potential for the private sector’s numerous ventures to develop and harness competition and innovation is noteworthy. We’ve already seen the science fiction like demonstrations from SpaceX’s reusable launch systems, Kepler’s satellite data and analytics and Airbus’ satellite manufacturing. As new household names progress in the NewSpace sector, technology and operations will continue to adapt.
The NewSpace sector also has the potential to unite nations across the planet as they undertake the massive development of organizations and technologies that space exploration and future settlement of planets like Mars will entail. What’s more, space industries promote collaboration and support foreign policy. International cooperation has been an essential foundation of US missions into space since the Cold War. Many believe the International Space Station is the single best example of global collaboration in the history of Humanity. Undoubtedly there will be other oppoirtunities for large scale global collaboration.
NASA now has over eight hundred active international agreements which are vital for research in various scientific fields. The private space sector itself will want to stay dedicated to these methods, especially because cooperation is essential to address space-specific problems, like increasing satellite traffic, avoiding space debris or tackling close-to-home threats like climate change and natural disasters. Our desire to explore space still requires a huge support system of money and expertise, emphasizing the need for a wide pool of resources from international partners to achieve successful missions.
Today, we see the promise of improved geopolitical relationships. On any given day, a European, an American and a Russian live on the International Space Station, dependent on each other and their governments for survival.
At last year’s Conference in Davos, the commercialization of space was a major topic with its ability to enable access to previously unattainable data, giving researchers and entrepreneurs answers to evolving questions about humanity. Earth imaging satellites can help secure fundamental resources like clean water through efficient monitoring of water levels and allowing us to give early warning shortages. But space technology can also continue to provide better health, well-being and quality education. Networks of global communication satellites developed by companies like SpaceX and OneWeb can provide more internet connectivity to a larger portion of the planet, especially those in remote regions with limited development and infrastructure. These satellites can give more people access to education resources, knowledge sharing and access to doctors via telemedicine. Today, about 50 percent of the global population has access to the Internet, so more development in space can help secure a better quality of life on Earth.
Another significant focus at the 2020 Conference is how to address the urgent climate and environmental challenges that are harming our ecology. Space technologies, in particular, have made our environments on Earth increasingly more stable. When it comes to climate action, earth-observation satellites allow us to globally monitor deforestation, pollution in bodies of water, status of ice caps and desertification, allowing us to take immediate action to prevent these events from happening or getting worse. Satellites also help monitor and protect wildlife habitats by finding indicators of development or destruction and notifying authorities to engage early and stop it. Additionally, as we explore space and invest in space mining technologies, we can potentially offset the burden on our natural resources and focus on preserving them instead.
With further exploration of space, we can put our lives into a better perspective and a broader context. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but to understand how we can build a more sustainable world and improve the wellbeing of our planet, we must leverage a paradigm for us to see Earth for the precious gift that it is — and I am convinced space is the best way to do that. At this year’s World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, I’m looking forward to continuing the discussions on how exploring space benefits all of us here on Earth and the key global issues we collectively face.