Against the background of global financial tensions, the participants in the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) held on 23-27 January in Davos, Switzerland, selected “the lack of coordinated response and leadership” as the highest concern in the face of current and future global economic, environmental and social issues.

Much of the subsequent debates focused on how "collaborative innovation" could provide responses to the three major global challenges: climate change, water supply and security, and nutrition. These issues are increasingly correlated and require a combination of:

  • science and technology
  • economic, regulatory and fiscal measures
  • better practices
  • communication, and
  • public-private partnerships.

ISO is the leader for the production of such standards, with a current portfolio of more than 17 000 documents and a monthly output of some 100 new or revised standards covering a wide range of issues – an increase of 32 % in the last five years.

Mr. Bryden outlined some recent ISO developments relating to the major global challenges for which collaborative innovation is particularly needed.

Climate change

In relation to climate change, there was a general agreement in Davos that carbon and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emission credits trading systems are an appropriate answer to encourage investment and action for the reduction of such emissions. A condition, however, is that such new markets should be based on appropriate and internationally recognized metrics and verification mechanisms at the various levels.

This includes the setting of national, sector and company objectives for the reduction of emissions through “cap and trade” programmes, “carbon footprint” evaluations and “carbon neutrality” targets, with corresponding internationally agreed requirements for the verification of claims and achievements in emission reduction.

The need for greater coherence and convergence of standards in this area was particularly emphasized by the participants. Mr. Bryden underlined ISO's publication of the ISO 14064 and ISO 14065 standards on the verification and accounting of GHG emissions and the collaboration between ISO and some major private sector initiatives in this area.

He pointed to the expansion of the work of ISO technical committee ISO/TC 207, Environmental management, to other climate change related issues, including carbon footprint assessment and claims. He added that ISO has decided to accelerate the production of standards related to energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

Water supply and security

In relation to water supply and security, to which a plenary session and five side sessions were dedicated, it was stressed at the meeting that the combined effects of climate change, demographics and the current wasteful use of water supplies result in making the water issue as important a challenge for the planet as climate change itself and the source of increasing political tensions.

Related to this issue, ISO has recently published a suite of new standards that offer the international community practical tools to address the global challenge of effectively managing limited water resources in order to provide access to safe drinking water and sanitation for the world’s population.

ISO 24510, ISO 24511 and ISO 24512 are designed to help water authorities and their operators to achieve a level of quality that best meets the expectations of users and the principles of sustainable development.

An upcoming development is an ISO International Workshop Agreement (IWA) on guidelines for the management of drinking water utilities under emergency or crisis conditions.

Nutrition

Nutrition is also an area where innovation is urgently needed to meet complex challenges. These include the fact that agriculture consumes 90 % of the world's water resources, factors such as the impact of the growing and aging world population, and the competition for agricultural output brought about by conflicting requirements for food and energy (e.g. biofuels). A related dilemma is that increasing the amount of land for cultivation through further deforestation has negative effects on the level of GHG emissions.

ISO developments with a positive impact on these issues include the ISO 22000 standard for food safety management systems, already implemented in some 60 countries, and related standards in the ISO 22000 family.

ISO has also created a committee to develop standards for biofuels, which will benefit from the ISO platform to address the various facets of this issue. The new committee will focus on physical and chemical characteristics for the use and distribution of ethanol and biodiesel, with possible future ISO consideration of environmental and sustainability aspects of biofuels.

Biotechnology is a new frontier for innovation – and correspondingly for international standardization – covering food and agriculture, health and medical issues and industrial processing. Mr. Bryden indicated that ISO is currently active in this area and is reviewing opportunites for further involvement.

Other ISO contributions

ISO's work and achievements in a number of other areas can make positive contributions to other concerns addressed at the meeting. These include:

  • the efficiency and security of the global supply chain, with the ISO 28000 series of standards on supply chain security management
  • the emergence of the “sustainable consumer”, ready to take the environmental and societal impact of products and services as important criteria for his or her choices, provided that associated claims and information are clear and reliable (the ISO Committee for consumer policy, ISO/COPOLCO, has already been focussing on this issue)
  • corporate global citizenship for the 21st century, for which good practices and transparency should be encouraged (ISO is currently developing the ISO 26000 standard which will provide guidance for social responsibility).

Growing impact of leading emerging economies

The participation in the Davos meeting again illustrated the growing impact of China and India on the world economy. Together with Brazil, the two joined South Africa, another leading emerging economy, on the ISO Council in 2008, and all have confirmed their commitment to contributing to international standardization, including by enhancing their involvement in ISO work and by their take-up of ISO standards.

More generally, ISO is accelerating the implementation of its Action Plan for Developing Countries, which constitute nearly 80 % of its current membership of 157 countries.