The 48th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting took place in Davos, Switzerland from the 23rd to the 26th of January. The theme for the year, “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World,” attracted the global elite and key political figures such as US President Donald Trump, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who gave the opening address.
The world is at a crossroads. While science and technology continue to advance, attitudes of many are deferring back to protectionist anti-globalization ways. The 13th edition of the Global Risks Report revealed that while extreme weather conditions were the most likely risk, weapons of mass destruction will have the greatest impact. The list was dominated largely by man-made risks, which will start to converge in the future as environmental factors start to affect social and financial stability.
While French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel drew attention to the need for global cooperation to deal with one of the greatest threats to civilization, which is climate change, the United States, having pulled out of the Paris Agreement, was silent on the matter. Hence, the forum saw world leaders tackle climate change in unison without Trump.
President Trump’s attendance marked the return of the first US President since Bill Clinton in 2000 to the World Economic Forum. His commitment to “America First” was seen in a more positive light due to a statement by Gary Cohn, an economic advisor from the White House, stating “America first is not America alone.”
The chief executive of South Pole, a Swiss environmental group, called Trump’s speech a disaster, stating “what he’s calling for is global egoism. It’s the survival of the fittest…He believes that by destroying the environment, business will thrive.”
It was widely believed that the agenda for the event was overshadowed by the presence of President Trump. His speech asserted that the U.S. is “open for business” and he went on to add that the U.S. is competitive again, highlighting a legislation that provided massive tax cuts to businesses. This move proved that the perfect way to get executives on your side is to fatten their wallets. While there was clear apprehension in regard to Trump’s stand on immigration and his nationalistic brand of politics, his economic reforms were seen favourably. Giving a nod of approval, Lloyd Blankfien, chief executive of Goldman Sachs, stated, “I like a lot more stuff than I don’t like.”
Meanwhile, IMF chief Christine Lagarde called out the tax cuts imposed as one of the greatest risks to the world’s economic recovery in a speech made shortly after Trump boasted about increases in jobs and wages as a result of the reform. She emphasized the need for inclusive growth in both advanced and emerging countries, stating, “Having growth is good, improving productivity is good, but [policymakers should] make sure that the results of that growth are properly allocated.”
Other key takeaways from the event included the singling out of social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google over the illegal content available in Europe and their role in spreading terrorism. Theresa May stated, “Companies simply cannot stand by while their platforms are used to facilitate child abuse, modern slavery or the spreading of terrorist or extremist content.” George Soros insisted that such companies are doomed saying, “The owners of the platforms consider themselves the masters of the universe but, in fact, they are slaves to preserving their dominant position.”
Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, put forth another critical issue, stressing the need for discussions on women’s rights and gender dynamics while lending his support for the recent #MeToo campaign. He went to state, “Sexual harassment in business and government is a systemic problem and it is unacceptable.” While the forum was co-chaired by seven impressive women, it was still disappointing to see that only one in five attendees were female, signalling that a lot is yet to be done.
In a comment, Alison Martin, the Group Chief Risk Officer of Zurich Insurance Group, stated, “Unfortunately, we currently observe a “too-little-too-late” response by governments and organizations to key trends such as climate change. It’s not yet too late to shape a more resilient tomorrow, but we need to act with a stronger sense of urgency in order to avoid potential system collapse.”
In a world brimming with disaster, it is vital for world leaders to come together and move past “I” and think of “we” in order to put an end to conflict and inequality.