THE world’s business and political elite are descending on the snowy streets of Davos in the Swiss Alps for the opening day of the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) four-day conference.
Plenty of time will be spent partying with Russian oligarchs and quaffing champagne, but they will also find time to tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues. Top of the agenda – ironically – is wealth inequality.
Davos has been criticised in the past as being nothing more than a fancy networking event. Over 3,000 business, political and cultural leaders from across the globe meet to forge business partnerships, showcase the latest in technology and science advancements, and also debate solutions to the big crises facing the world today.
This year is no different. The theme for 2019 is “Globalisation 4.0: Shaping the Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” And these are the big topics up for solving over the next few days:
Despite being the biggest champions of globalisation, the WEF is now acknowledging it is a system that hasn’t worked for all.
With skyrocketing inequality, a return to protectionism, and the rise of nationalist politics, they fear the theory they supported so vigorously has failed to be “inclusive” and has instead left the majority alienated and disenfranchised.
In a statement that certainly could have been better worded, WEF’s founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab said:
“Globalisation produces winners and losers and there are many more winners in the last 24, 25, 30 years – but now we have to look after the losers.”
Considering it was a system erected by the very people in the room, to benefit the very people in the room, it’s unlikely much progress will be made on this front and it will no doubt be on the agenda next year.
After 12 months of extreme weather events, during which the huge financial and social cost of unchecked climate change became painfully clear, business leaders and politicians may finally be taking notice.
Naturalist Sir David Attenborough addressed delegates on Monday, to try and drive the point home. He warned that “the Garden of Eden is no more”, as he urged political and business leaders from around the world to make a renewed push to tackle climate change before the damage is irreparable.
But green groups have voiced concern that there remains a lack of political will to act accordingly.
“The agenda only addresses climate change as one issue of many. The Davos ‘elite’ are still pretending we have time to fix the climate crisis. We don’t,” Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan said in a statement.
China’s economic slowdown
With CEOs of the world’s biggest companies lurking behind all corners, the pressure will be on for China’s vice president Wang Qishan to explain the dire economic figures coming out of Beijing this week.
Official figures released Monday show China’s economic growth dropped to its slowest since 1990 at just 6.6 percent.
As a major player that bailed the world out in the last global financial crisis, China’s rate of expansion has raised worries about the potential knock-on effect on the global economy.
— World Economic Forum (@Davos) January 22, 2019
While there was hope Davos could bring a breakthrough in the US-China trade war negotiations, that hope was dashed when US President Donald Trump pulled out to deal with the government shutdown crisis back home.
Trump also prevented the entire White House delegation from attending, including US treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin; the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo; the secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross; and top US trade representative, Robert Lighthizer. So there’s no hope of any progress being made.
The UK’s Prince William will be making the case for placing employees’ mental wellbeing front and centre of business management.
On Twitter, Kensington Palace said the royal “will use the opportunity to highlight his belief that the world’s major employers have a vital role to play in promoting mentally healthy societies and workplaces.”
The Duke will also join a panel discussion on mental health, and will use the opportunity to highlight his belief that the world’s major employers have a vital role to play in promoting mentally healthy societies and workplaces.
— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) December 19, 2018
The WEF has recognised the importance of mental health for the first time. According to The Guardian, the organisation will take this opportunity to address fears that depression, anxiety and other mental health problems are rising, and being neither measured correctly nor properly addressed.