Business Maverick

Business Maverick

Davos by the Numbers: From Climate Change to Billionaires

Greta Thunberg’s call to the World Economic Forum in 2019 that it’s time to panic about climate change might be finally starting to hit home as attendees show more alarm at the teenage activist’s message.

While the event celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, with the usual parade of government chiefs, billionaires and corporate executives attending, global warming is dominating the agenda more than ever. In the WEF’s annual risk survey, environmental dangers elbowed out items such as cyber attacks or terrorism.
Biggest Global Risks

The meeting in the Swiss ski resort follows the warmest decade on record and a year when Venice succumbed to floods, chunks of Brazil’s rainforest went up in flames and even more of Australia burned up too. Thunberg presaged it all last January, telling a Davos audience that “our house is on fire.”

To stress the urgency, climate activists are staging a march from the town of Landquart toward Davos. Thunberg herself will speak at the Forum on Tuesday.

Not all attendees are listening. President Donald Trump, who pulled the U.S. out of the Paris accord on climate change, will be giving the one of the gathering’s first keynote speeches.

Weather Worries

Attendees from Europe will know that the region’s weather has been unseasonably warm of late. While there’s more than enough snow for them to ski in Davos, mountains in lower-lying areas in Germany, Austria and Switzerland have been barer. In Finland, the temperature this January has been as much as 10 degrees Celsius warmer than the long-term average.

Almost a fifth of the sessions at this year’s Forum are about the environment, up from about 13% in 2010, when the financial crisis was fresh in people’s minds.

Organizers have also revised their Davos Manifesto to call for a “better kind of capitalism” that goes beyond creating shareholder value. The organization credits Thunberg, whose message serves as a reminder that “the current economic system represents a betrayal of future generations.”

Social Mobility

That would also imply tackling inequality, which is an explosive political issue. The Forum said in a report published this week that global inequality is going to worsen unless governments do more to ensure those most affected by rapid technological change aren’t just cast aside and forgotten.

That’s also a message for the world’s major corporations from whom the WEF gets a big portion of its almost $350 million annual budget.

Money Machine

And while the Forum has invited along 10 teenagers who have taken a stand on environmental and social issues, including Thunberg, they will be easily outnumbered by billionaires — at least 119 of them.

Notable attendees include JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon and Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, who is at the helm of the eponymous agricultural trading house.

Billionaire Haven

Gender equality remains another pressing issue. While the WEF touts the importance of diversity, Davos Man is clearly still the dominant species within the conference center itself.

The European Central Bank’s new president, Christine Lagarde, and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg both are due to appear. But although the proportion of female attendees has improved over the years, it still hasn’t hit 25%.

Still Short
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