Delegates are settling into Davos 2023 for the beginning of the annual World Economic Forum meeting. But the World Economic Forum is facing both growing skepticism and competition.
The power of Davos is the guest list. Attendance this week at the first full-fledged gathering in three years appears robust. But many of the biggest names in global politics and business are missing.
Power players across government and business finagle high-level meetings, sip champagne with clients and keep up with their competitors.
Davos holds still an allure for both countries and companies who are seeking global investment, and respect. But some contend that the World Economic Forum could slide, or has already, into irrelevance.
Davos celebrates globalization and elevates its core premise of bringing the international elite together to solve global problems.
A clear majority of the world leaders are from Europe at a time when global power is seeping away from the continent, and just one G7 leader made the trip, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
One European participant asked in a closed session what will replace the “western-led system of globalization”.
One of the speeches in the biggest spotlight came from European Union leader Ursula von Der Leyen. It was a tricky balancing act: Assure European leaders their beleaguered companies will get cash while insisting the EU is not turning protectionist.
Speaking to hundreds of CEOs, politicians, and global leaders at the World Economic Forum, the European Commission president set out a grand plan to keep Europe’s industry competitive in a race to attract green tech and climate-related investment.
It comes as U.S. lawmakers at Davos are telling Europeans that America is not protectionist, trying to convince Brussels that Washington’s subsidy push will not hurt businesses in Europe.
The passage of Washington’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the $369 billion behemoth legislation stuffed with clean-energy incentives, has upended EU-U.S. relations, prompting European accusations that the U.S. is unfairly boosting its own companies to encourage local investment.
The IRA is fueling European nightmares of industry and investments fleeing the Continent just as the economy turns soporific.
In response, the EU is looking to counter with state-provided aid of its own.
“The next decades will see the greatest industrial transformation of our times — maybe of any time,” von der Leyen said. “And those who develop and manufacture the technology that will be the foundation of tomorrow’s economy will have the greatest competitive edge.”
Another big issue at Davos this year is greenwashing.
As oil and gas executives rub shoulders with government leaders in Davos this week, activists have raised concerns about the risk of greenwashing and further delays in climate action.
Big dogs in the oil and gas industry meeting with global powers could be a nightmare for keeping the world on track for climate initiatives. There are discussions on the program for climate change, but greenwashing is a massive concern.
Environmental campaigners including Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg will travel to Switzerland in the coming days to bring a “cease and desist” letter to oil and gas CEOs, demanding they stop any new oil and gas project.
Activists will also ramp up pressure on rich nations to increase climate finance to developing countries.
In the European Union, the commitment to decarbonize has been challenged by the energy crisis, leading to a greater reliance on fossil fuels to replace Russian gas.