Davos 2022: 'no business as usual' at World Economic Forum like no other

Amid the spring weather, this year's annual meeting is critical for meeting challenges ranging from Ukraine to climate change

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On Saturday, in Davos, it already did not feel like it would be “business as usual” this week.

This of course was already evident given that World Economic Forum’s annual meeting is being held in May in the Swiss resort instead of during its usual January slot in the calendar, after coronavirus-related delays.

However, while the mountain views remain breathtaking, it is not this — now luscious — landscape that will ultimately decide what kind of impact this year's event will make on the years ahead.

Borge Brende, the forum’s president, said this is the most complex geopolitical and geo-economic backdrop in decades amid the war in Ukraine, the climate emergency, a weakening outlook for global economic growth, a food crisis, rising inflation and the recovery from the pandemic still relatively fragile.

“So, there’s no business as usual. We just need to now come together and also then move into unchartered territories,” he said last week.

Police patrol outside the Congress Centre prior to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Davos on Saturday. Photo: EPA

On Saturday in Davos, the snow and ice we have come to expect during the annual meeting was replaced by green fields and warm sunshine.

People enjoyed the weather in the outside seating of the town's cafes and restaurants. The heavy security presence was typical of previous years.

However, police and officials in hi-vis jackets outnumbered those making their way along Davos’ famous Promenade. Most — forum delegates or otherwise — will not arrive before late on Sunday or early on Monday, when the annual meeting begins in earnest.

Coronavirus safety measures are also a new feature this year, with all meeting participants asked to take a mandatory test within 24 hours of registering on-site in Davos.

The testing facilities are housed in the same large tent as registration desks. A negative result will activate badges for entry to the Congress Centre where most of the sessions and speeches are held.

Many of the shopfronts on the Promenade are already transformed — as they are annually during forum week — into supercharged marketing spaces for companies including Facebook parent Meta and US banking group Citi, as well as for governments to show their investment priorities to the influential and powerful gathered here.

Those taking part on the sidelines in Davos typically vastly outnumber those officially attending the actual meeting. Those who have obtained hotel passes are able to occupy a twilight world between the inside of the Congress Centre and the town beyond the tight security checks to get into the perimeter around it.

The streets and roads on Saturday were quiet with no sign that climate protests had taken place the day before.

On Friday, the forum and consultancy McKinsey launched the Resilience Consortium. A white paper also released outlined seven key drivers of resilience including climate, food, and energy.

“A significant share of annual GDP growth will depend on the degree to which organisations and societies develop resilience,” the forum said.

“There is an urgent need for more collective action and co-ordination by the public and private sectors to mitigate risks and sustain growth against disruptive shocks, especially among the most vulnerable populations,” Mr Brende said.

McKinsey global managing partner Bob Sternfels said the company's research “shows two things: 1) failure to invest in resilience is costly and far exceeds the cost of weatherproofing before disruptions; and 2) resilient organisations outperform non-resilient before, during and after crisis”.

The Ukraine House Davos in Davos on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Topics on the agenda at the annual meeting this week include these as well as the Ukraine conflict, inflation and the weakening economic outlook.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will address the meeting by video link but he has sent a large delegation to represent the country and post-war reconstruction is expected to be discussed.

There is also a Ukraine House on the Promenade, which will host dialogue related to the conflict.

More than 50 heads of state and government are set to attend this year. Iraq’s President Barham Salih will speak, as will Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

US climate envoy John Kerry will also be in Davos as environment ministers from around the world work on more action on global warming.

“I'm sure that the World Economic Forum with 2,500 participants in Davos, also from all walks of life can in the areas that we have now mentioned, make a difference,” Mr Brende said.

“And we'll make sure that companies also then commit to contributing in a positive way when it comes to the Digital Divide, when it comes to climate when it comes to loss of biodiversity, when it comes also to investing in skills, upskilling, right skilling and to get a much more inclusive recovery.”

Updated: May 22, 2022, 3:15 PM
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