Political and business leaders have gathered to address a daunting confluence of global crises, including the conflict in Ukraine, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and global economic instability, at the opening sessions of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Switzerland on Monday.
Colloquially named after the remote Alpine resort town where it takes place, Davos is a controversial event. While some see it as a gathering of elites looking to consolidate personal power, others argue that the forum has helped to push through some important global initiatives.
This week, over 2,500 guests will attend some 400 sessions centered on the theme “History at a Turning Point: Government Policies and Business Strategies”.
Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, said that the world stands at the “most consequential political and geopolitical moment” of the past decade as the conflict in Ukraine continues.
Schwab said that the conflict is exacerbating rising inflation and low economic growth, which could plunge “hundreds of millions back into poverty” and lead to “tens of millions dying of hunger”.
He also said that the conflict threatens to hamper progress on global warming and the preservation of nature. Several developed countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, have announced plans to ramp up domestic fossil fuel exploration in the pursuit of energy security.
Schwab said that attendees in Davos have the ability to improve the state of the world, and called on them to act in collaboration and find “holistic solutions to political, economic, social and ecological issues”.
At the first in-person meeting since the beginning of the pandemic in 2019, Schwab said that attendees must seek solutions to the “massive health challenge” of current and future global disease outbreaks.
Schwab also called on attendees to act on behalf of their communities and look beyond their own interests.
“We have the means to improve the state of the world,” Schwab said. “But two conditions are necessary. The first is that we all act as stakeholders of large communities, and that we serve not only our self-interests but also serve the community. That is what we call stakeholder responsibility. And the second is that we collaborate.”
President of the Swiss Confederation Ignazio Cassis said that periods of relative peace, prosperity and technological progress can be deceptive, and that humankind must acknowledge its vulnerability. He said that as “one crisis collides with the next”, the conditions are set for “growing nationalism, a hunger for power and protectionism”.
Cassis outlined three scenarios that could serve as starting points for discussions in Davos. The first scenario “is that of sectoral globalization”, where the forming of blocs leads to separate economic areas and closed regional networks.
“This is a model that entails considerable risks, including polarization, exacerbated hegemonic politics, cold wars over trade, a weakening global regulatory system, blocking of trade, which means serious threats to prosperity,” Cassis said.
The second scenario is that of a “weighted retreat for hyper globalization” and “strategic calculations for renationalizing resources, value chains and production processes of systemic importance”.
“This will lead to reduced interdependence, less risk and fewer suppliers,” Cassis said. “The trade-off is higher product prices, since this targeted refocusing inevitably brings efficiency losses.”
Cassis said his preferred scenario promotes “stronger, targeted multilateralism”.
“Multilateralism must chiefly be focused on those major issues that cannot be dealt with in isolation,” he said, referring to “issues such as the planet, pandemics, or extreme poverty. Issues such as global financial crises, trade blockages or energy supply”.