Bandwidth in Your Business: Reloaded, gasworld’s first webinar of 2022, sponsored by Anova, explored the various implications upon industry of the Covid-19 pandemic and how lessons learned through persistent lockdowns and unprecedented disruption has helped and could continue to help support global industry.

Having co-authored ‘Covid-19 and the Great Reset’ alongside Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Klaus Schwab, Thierry Mallaret, Joint Founder and Managing Partner at Monthly Barometer, spoke with gasworld’s Global Managing Editor Rob Cockerill and Broadcast Journalist Tom Dee about the adaption and evolution of industry in a post-Covid world. 

Referring to the concept of a Great Reset as a metaphor, he said, “The Great Reset means that when you face such a systemic, broad, sudden shock, you should take it as an advantage to push forward the measures that ought to be implemented to make the world more resilient, more equitable and more sustainable.”

“We’ve been talking about this for years and years and years, now is the time to do it.”

Reflected in the ever-increasing cost of living, the global economy has been one of the hardest hit areas since the onset of Covid-19 lockdowns. According to the WEF, a sharp economic downturn has already begun, and we could be facing the worst depression since the 1930s. 

To mitigate the impact, the WEF has proposed a unification of the global population to transform every industry, from oil and gas to tech and everything in between, as part of a ‘Great Reset’ of capitalism. 

A 2019 article in the Financial Times revealed that global government debt has already reached its highest level in peacetime, compounded by the skyrocketing unemployment cases seen in countries such as the US. 

The WEF stated that to prevent the situation from worsening, society must build entirely new foundations for its economic and social systems, an enormous undertaking that will require stronger international partnerships and effective private-sector engagement. 

The transformation is set to involve the five ‘macro categories’ Mallaret regards as ‘fundamental’ to humanity: 

  • Geopolitics
  • Economics
  • Environment
  • Society
  • Technology

“If you look at the world through the lens of five big macro categories, if you take economics first, you exclusive the environment, and society, health and environment. Since you realise that each of these major macro blocks is evolving in a radically different manner and it’s a systemic fashion on all of them,” he said. 

This evolution will see governments working to create the conditions for a ‘stakeholder economy’ through improving coordination and upgrading trade arrangements, in addition to placing a strong focus on social equity. This may include changes to wealth taxes, the withdrawal of fossil-fuel subsidies, and new rules governing intellectual property, trade, and competition. 

With the European Commission recently unveiling plans for a €750bn recovery fund, the Great Reset agenda intends to prioritise large-scale spending programmes. Instead of using the funds to ‘fill cracks in the old system’, the WEF intends to use them to build resilience and equity through sustainable means. 

The organisation claims that such means revolve around the creation of ‘green’ urban infrastructure and creating incentives for industries to improve their track record on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics. 

Fundamentally linked to climate change, the extent of how we adapt to change and how quickly that occurs needs to be balanced. 

“Climate change is going to affect economy and it is going to affect geopolitics, it’s going to affect society, it’s going to affect the way in which we respond to change,” said Mallaret. 

“We are in the midst of a very radical sudden change and therefore we have to adapt to it. Now the question is, are we moving fast enough?” 

He added that the argument made in the book centres around the logistics of adaption, how it will occur, how quickly it will occur, and the policy consequences presented by such solutions. 

“It’s a question of balance and enforcement is very highly correlated with the person’s standpoint,” he added. 

With humanity having entered the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), advancements in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), smart-tech and IoT (Internet of Things), robotics, 3D printing, and genetic engineering are set to integrate our physical space with digital and biological worlds. 

The WEF claim these technological innovations will be harnessed to support the public good, especially by addressing health and social challenges. In an article published by Schwab in mid-2020, he suggested that the scale of global collaboration seen during the Covid-19 crisis could be applied to every sector, further advancing the speed of development and adaptation. 

“The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world to create a healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous future,” Schwab declared. 

The implications for business and industry 

When asked about how business has evolved during the incipient stages of the ‘Great Reset’, accelerated by the impact of Covid-19, Mallaret suggested that different industries have been affected in different ways.

“Every single industry has been affected by Covid in a different manner. However, some of the challenges that we’ve been facing and we’ve been addressing the past 18 months point to two very distinctive features that are going to affect every single industry in the years to come.”

These features include digitisation, which, for example, allows workers to work remotely, something that has revolutionised office-based work in the past year and a half, and also the increased focus on wellness.

“Covid has again made it very clear that well-being is a very key component of productivity. If your workforce is not well, you’re unlikely to succeed as a company. And because of the pandemic, we’ve realised how important, how critical well-being is,” he said.

Moving onto the topic of the economic reset, Cockerill asked if the reset will be based around more value creation, decentralisation, resource security and sustainability.

Mallaret responded, “Absolutely. It’s happening. It’s going to develop further. It’s going to be multifaceted.”

“But I think from a macro point of view, the main thing that the reset is going to take is that the very famous divergence between emerging markets and mature economies that we’ve been talking about for years and years and years and may not happen because emerging countries and from two markets have been hit incredibly hard by the pandemic.”

Despite the apparent benefits for humanity, environment and our collective social conscience, the concept of a 4IR future has faced criticism from those who see it as a way for governments and mega corporations to capitalise upon a large-scale wealth and power transfer. 

By carrying out ‘stakeholder capitalism’ through multi-stakeholder partnerships, governments become one stakeholder in a multi-stakeholder model. This redesign of global governance could see power taken away from democratic institutions and handed to the corporations – in the form of stakeholders – which are essentially governing themselves. 

Critics of these multi-stakeholder partnerships point to the list of companies that partner with WEF and question the ethics of promoting them to being official stakeholders in global decision-making. These include Saudi Aramco, Shell, Chevron, BP, Unilever, The Coca-Cola Company, Facebook, Google, Amazon and pharmaceutical giants AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna, all giants of their respective sectors already holding monopolies over entire industries. 

Time for change

The concept of a Great Reset, as divisive as it is, appears to be an inevitable consequence of our transition into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. There is no denying that the current system contains structural weaknesses that have been exposed throughout the past 18 months. For the industrial gas sector widespread positive change is already being seen, through carbon offset schemes, carbon capture projects, and the creation of new industries centred around transitional and future fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), biofuel, and green hydrogen.

Such changes present themselves as a boon for humanity but, to ensure a truly just and equitable transition - considering the changes are being provided in the interest of the ‘public good’ - it also remains the responsibility of the public to meet change with due scepticism.