Can Davos play a role on the global stage without A-list players?


teaHe said the highlight of the last meeting of the global elite in Davos was the brawl between Greta Thunberg and Donald Trump. It was January 2020, new virus It was recently discovered in China. Most of those trekking to Swiss alpine resorts have been too busy with the virtues of expressing deep concerns about inequality and climate emergencies.

A lot has happened in those 28 months. What was considered a small local difficulty in Wuhan turned out to be the beginning of a global crisis. January 2021 Davos was a fictitious event, and the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting, scheduled for January 2022, has been postponed due to the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

This week’s WEF meeting will have a different feel. Not just because many of the slopes are green, not white. Attendance has dropped to pre-pandemic levels and there are no A-listers among the headliners.

No one will be the protagonist of the 2020 climate emergency. Trump is absent and Thunberg is giving Davos an absence. Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi are also not on the guest list. Silence is understandable. Playing with billionaires when the cost of living crisis hits isn’t the coolest thing to do.

In the past, the British Finance Minister was the guest speaker at a business dinner hosted by the luxurious Grandhotel Belvédère in Davos. Rishi Sunak escaped the embarrassment of having to turn down the invitation because no lunch was held this year.

In 1971, the first Davos Forum was organized and WEF’s Executive Chairman, Klaus Schwab, braved the no-shows of global giants.

“The annual meeting is the first summit to bring global leaders together in this new context, which features a multipolar world emerging as a result of epidemics and wars,” he said. “The direct gathering of nearly 2,500 leaders from politics, corporate civil society and the media underscores the need for a trusted, informal and action-oriented global platform to address issues in a world driven by crisis.”

Schwab’s hopes are that this year’s low-key event is just a temporary setback and that Davos returns to normal in January next year, and he might be right. CEOs of large multinationals may be more reluctant to travel to Switzerland in spring than in winter, especially given the stringent health requirements for attending meetings. As the ongoing lockdown in China attests, Covid-19 has not been eliminated.

It is possible that the Davos Forum will prove its worth as a global talk show by making some progress on the climate emergency. The top US politician on the show will be Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry, and UK government representative Alok Sharma, who chaired the Cop26 meeting in Glasgow last November.

But there are alternative stories. Davos has always been committed to globalization and has long been keen to use the forum to solve common problems such as global warming and inequality. But how to deal with a fragmented world where globalization is receding? Vladimir Putin gave a keynote address last year in virtual Davos, but no Russians were invited this time due to the Ukraine war. Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a pro-globalization speech in Davos five years ago. It is highly unlikely that he will give a speech like today.

The combination of the pandemic and Putin has accelerated an already existing trend of deglobalization, a process that poses the biggest threat to Davos’ future rather than protesters outside the Ring of Steel.

The former British cabinet minister, who was once a Davos regular, said the meeting was no longer meaningful. “It got ridiculous,” he said. “Executives who flew to Switzerland in private planes promised to plant millions of trees to offset carbon.”

Fewer trees should be planted this year.

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