Davos 2020 diary – day #1

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, pictured during his welcoming address the 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, 20 January 2020. [Gian Ehrenzeller/EPA]

Welcome to Davos where the 50th edition of the World Economic Forum (WEF) is taking place on 21-25 January. Throughout the week, EURACTIV gives you a glimpse into one of the world’s most exclusive conferences where political and business leaders meet every year to discuss global economic trends.

The big show only starts on Tuesday (21 January) but as leaders slowly arrive in the Swiss Alpine resort, a number of organisations have started warming up the room by presenting their latest reports. Aimed at informing the discussion between policymakers and business leaders, those were presented by men and women ranging from organisations as diverse as global anti-poverty NGO Oxfam and the International Monetary Fund. Here’s the rundown.

IMF warns about trade tensions. In its latest economic outlook, the IMF warned on the impact trade disputes could have on the global economy, drawing attention in particular to EU-US tensions between the EU and the US. “Such events, alongside rising geopolitical risks and intensifying social unrest, could reverse easily financial conditions, expose financial vulnerabilities and severely disrupt growth,” Chief Economist Gita Gopinath said. Read Jorge Valero’s story here.

PwC worried too. CEOs across the world are worried too, as shown by a survey of 1,600 CEOs from 83 countries by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The survey points to “record levels of pessimism in the global economy,” among the world business leaders. Trade is also an important source of concern for the business community, together with over-regulation and uncertain economic growth. While the risk of climate change is taken into account, it is far from the top 10 of CEO concerns. “My hope is that the business community, and even the dialogue in Davos this week, gets it higher on the agenda and more importantly, actions are taken,” Bob Moritz, Chairman of PwC network told EURACTIV’s  Jorge Valero in an interview.

Oxfam warns of rising inequality. When hundreds of millionaires – usually white men from North America – meet to discuss the state of the global economy, it is impossible not to mention rising inequalities. Oxfam published its annual inequality report on Monday, with figures that were as striking as usual. According to Oxfam, the richest 1% of the world population now owns more than double the wealth of 6.9 billion people on this planet.

This year’s report has a particular focus on gender. Worldwide, men own 50% more wealth than women, according to Oxfam. This year, Oxfam also looked at the value of unpaid work – often performed by women – which they evaluate at $10.8 trillion per year. Oxfam calls for a better distribution of wealth through taxation, ending extreme poverty and social exclusion and addressing the massive gap that unpaid work represents for women.

WEF social mobility report. This year, for the first time, the World Economy Forum published its ‘Social Mobility Report‘ on Monday. The report shows that equal societies, where every person has the same opportunities irrespective of their socioeconomic background, not only bring societal benefits but also boost economic growth. If countries were able to improve their social mobility score by 10 points, GDP would increase up to 4.4% by 2030, the report claims.

But few of the 82 countries analysed have the conditions in place to foster social mobility, the report found. The main issues that hamper social mobility are low wages, lack of social protection, deficient working conditions and poor long-life learning programmes both for workers and unemployed people. On the bright side, at least for Europe, member states Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg are in the top ten of the best countries on the matter.

Von der Leyen, the Davos early bird. One of the early birds in Davos this year was European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen who delivered a speech for the Forum’s 50th anniversary ceremony. In her speech, she recalled the historically close ties between her institution and the WEF, and praised its founder, Klaus Schwab, for his contribution to multilateralism. “Davos is the place where leaders who otherwise would not even speak to each other engage in debates. Davos is the place where conflicts are averted, business is started, disputes are finished. Davos is the place where government, business and civil society join forces,” von der Leyen said.

The inaugural ceremony ended with a concert by the EU Youth Orchestra, which was welcomed by a strong round of applause from the audience. President von der Leyen managed to make the public burst into a second ovation when she approached the musicians to congratulate them for their performance.

Spotted. Former US vice-president, philanthropist and long-time climate activist Al Gore was spotted in Davos. On Monday evening, he sat in the audience to enjoy the EU’s anthem and attentively listened to Ursula von der Leyen’s speech and call for joint action to achieve sustainable economic growth. We wonder if Gore will also be present during von der Leyen’s grand address on Wednesday (22 January) where she is expected to present the Commission’s political agenda, including her flagship European Green Deal.

Talking about presidential candidates, on Tuesday (21 January), US president Donald Trump will deliver a special keynote address to the Forum. Trump is never one to miss but with the Iran crisis still smouldering, rising trade tensions with Europe and China and his own impeachment hearing moving to the Senate, he is the one to watch.

Arriving also on Tuesday, young climate activist Greta Thunberg will take part in two sessions at the Davos forum. This will be Greta’s second year attending Davos and all eyes will be on the corridors of the Congress Center waiting for another unexpected encounter between the two political adversaries.

Quote of the day. “What was feared and what was warned is no longer in our future, a topic for debate. It is here. We have seen the unfolding wings of climate change,” said Lynette Wallworth, an Australian artist, said in reference to the devastating fires in her homeland. “To face what this new reality means, we need new leaders to match this moment,” Wallworth, who was a recipient of a Crystal Award that recognises the leadership of cultural figures, told the audience, “this is a time for new leaders, for youth leaders, for women leaders and for indigenous leaders, and those who can work with them.” 

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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