Davos 2022 – what to expect from this meeting like no other

By Robin Pomeroy, Podcast Editor, World Economic Forum | May 23, 2022
  • The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022 takes place in Davos, Switzerland on May 23-26.
  • For the first time, it is not in January, but the war in Ukraine and global economic upheaval will also make it, in many ways, an unprecedented event.
  • Radio Davos is podcasting daily from Davos 2022. Subscribe here.

The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, bringing leaders and experts together from around the world, usually happens at the start of the year. COVID-19 prevented an in-person event for the last two years, and, for the first time, the Davos 2022 meeting is being held in May. But as Forum President Borge Brende says in this preview podcast, the absence of snow is not the main reason this Davos will be like no other.

This is a transcript of the episode.

Robin Pomeroy: As I record this, I’m packing my bag for Davos – a long train ride up into the Swiss Alps.

I won’t be packing my snow boots or warm coat, as would be de rigueur for any other Davos meeting, because the pandemic meant the traditional January meeting where the World Economic Forum hosts leaders from around the world, didn’t happen this year or the year before that in person.

It’s happening now in spring, but the absence of snow won’t be the only obvious difference at this Davos that is like no other.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a game changer, not least for the Forum, which sees itself as a place to bring people together to seek agreement on ways to, in its own words, ‘improve the state of the world’.

The main part of this episode is an interview I grabbed with World Economic Forum President Børge Brende before he headed up the mountain. But first, here’s Klaus Schwab, who founded the Forum more than 50 years ago and remains its executive chairman. Here he is speaking at a press conference days ahead of the Annual Meeting, explaining why the theme of this year’s event is ‘History at a turning point’.

Klaus Schwab: Our first thoughts are with the war in Ukraine. Russia’s aggression on the country will be seen in future history books as the breakdown of the post-World War Two and post-Cold War order. This is the reason why we speak about ‘the turning point in history’. In Davos, our solidarity is foremost with the people suffering from the atrocities of this war.

Robin Pomeroy: Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum founder and executive chairman. So as well as Ukraine, what will be the other big issues at Davos? Saadia Zahidi, head of the Forum’s Centre for the New Economy and Society.

Saadia Zahidi: The Global Economic Outlook is one of the 60 or so sessions that are addressing where the global economy is headed and how to ensure that the economy works for people.

A few things there. One is, of course, trying to understand what are the headwinds, what are the tailwinds that are currently facing this very deeply uncertain economic context. So trying to understand more about the outlook for inflation, what that means for the cost of living crisis. Understanding more about the outlook for debt, the broad macroeconomic picture, and much more when it comes to the current picture of the economy.

But what matters in the longer term is the set of economic trends that were already under way, and we saw that happen during the pandemic, and now, of course, that is getting worsened due to the current conflict context. So that includes things like education, like jobs, like inclusion – a number of areas that were already facing a complex situation, particularly with the technological changes that were under way. That became much more complicated during the pandemic, and so a large part of the programme will also look at jobs, how to ensure that we create not just better jobs and the jobs that are needed in the future, but also ensure that these are jobs that pay a living wage.

Robin Pomeroy: But it’s not just the economy. Far from it. Here’s Gim Huay Neo, head of the forum’s Centre for Nature and Climate.

Gim Huay Neo: So you will see panel discussions around decarbonisation across industries, especially the hard-to-abate sectors. And by this I mean shipping, aviation, trucking, the mobility sectors, materials, steel, aluminium, concrete, cement, as well as chemicals, and not forgetting agriculture, which is also a key source of emissions today.

So we will have conversations that line up to explore solutions and also new technologies that we could invest into and scale so that we can actually accelerate the transition process.

Robin Pomeroy: To tell us more about what’s coming up at Davos 2022. I spoke to Børge Brende, the president of the World Economic Forum. I started by asking him simply, what is this ‘Annual Meeting’ in Davos?

Børge Brende: It is the foremost gathering of leaders from business and government and civil society coming together. 2,500 participants trying to make the world a little bit better place to live, and also to make sure that we can find some solutions to the most pressing challenges that we are facing.

Of course, this is more difficult when we are faced with such a polarised world where we see also so much infighting, but we know that there are still opportunities there. It will be great when we have, for example, Secretary [John] Kerry from the US, the climate envoy, coming again together with the climate envoy from China, Minister Xie [Zhenhua], they did wonderful work at COP26 where we got the deal at the last moment and we are now, at least on paper, on track if everyone implements what they have committed to towards the 1.5 degrees Celsius track.

Robin Pomeroy: Davos, traditionally it’s always in January. It kind of sets the global agenda on policy issues. It’s in May this time. How much of a difference do you think that will make?

Børge Brende: I think the biggest difference from this Davos compared to the 50 Davoses that have been in the past, is that it is happening at a time where we’re seeing more geopolitical and economic turmoil than in decades.

That we will not be facing snow will, of course, also change a little bit of the atmosphere, but we are in a very difficult global situation: war in Ukraine; we see unparalleled heatwaves already in the spring in many places in the world – in India, close to 50 degrees [Celsius]; and we are seeing a slowing global recovery just when we thought we were out of it, and we are not out of the woods when it comes to the pandemic wither – see the challenges that the most populous country in the world now, China, is faced with.

So Davos 2022 will be different, but not mainly because of the lack of snow, but because of lack of global cooperation to solve these most pressing challenges. Global challenges need global solutions, and we’re not seeing these global solutions. And that’s where we have to push in Davos. Governments, business, civil society have to push the envelope so we make sure that we get that a more inclusive, job-creating and sustainable recovery; that we walk the talk on climate change, and that we also are better prepared for the new challenges that we know will come, for example, potentially new pandemics, post-COVID.

Robin Pomeroy: And the theme of this meeting is history at a turning point. I’m guessing that’s not least because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Can you tell us a bit about the Forum’s position on that conflict and whether Russia will have any representation at this meeting?

Børge Brende: So we decided that there will be no Russian companies in Davos this year, and we will not have representatives from Russia either this year. So of course, we do want to see an end of this war, but that is now up to the Kremlin and Mr Putin. Mr. Putin started the war and he can end it by, again, accepting what he has accepted in the past, the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russia also has to, again, go back to the obligations they have in the UN charter, something that they’re not complying with today as a member of the UN Security Council, as a permanent member with a veto. It is very, very sad. But we do hope that Russia can in the future choose a different path. But I’m not optimistic short term, I have to say, unfortunately.

Robin Pomeroy: So back to the meeting. It’s over four days. There are dozens, if not hundreds of sessions, very high level discussions going on. Are there any things at this point, a few days ahead of it, you can kind of pick out as what you expect might be the highlights?

You mentioned climate change as one, with John Kerry coming and the US and the Chinese meeting again to talk about climate change. Are there any other things, perhaps on the economy or the pandemic? What do you expect could be the highlights?

Børge Brende: So the opening in Davos will be a dialogue with President Zelenskyy from Kyiv.

Robin Pomeroy: Down the line, I assume?

Børge Brende: Yes, on a video link. But after that, there will be a panel with five women leaders from Ukraine, parliamentarians, also deputy prime minister, young leaders also from Ukraine.

And the amount of atrocities and the challenges that the people in Ukraine now are faced with, I am really thinking that this will be a very consequential session for all the participants in Davos.

When it comes to the economy. We will have 47 finance ministers and economy ministers there. And I do hope that we can agree on measures that can keep the economy growing. We know that without economic growth, there will be no new jobs, and without inclusive green growth there will also not be a possibility to solve the inequality challenges that we are faced with in many countries, and also where without the green growth, we will continue to see a planet on fire.

We also know that there will be no real recovery without trade and investment recovery. And we’re having close to 30 ministers with the trade portfolio, with Dr Ngozi [Okonjo-Iweala] and the WTO, and I do hope that we will see then less tariffs, that we will see also more openness for trade moving forward because many developing countries and emerging economies are really hurt by this protectionist approach.

We cannot continue to ‘beggar thy neighbour’, we have to ‘prosper our neighbour’. And what is incredibly important is that we can see an end of all this ban of export of food because that, if continued, we will see a perfect storm and it will end with a massive food crisis later this year.

So I was very pleased to just learn before I came into the studio here that, for example, Indonesia as one of the key exporters of cooking oil, has decided to lift the ban on export that they just introduced a week ago. So that’s the way to go.

Robin Pomeroy: You’ve done many Davos meetings before. How confident are you that meetings like this with all those senior people discussing the kind of issues you’ve just mentioned, that you can actually make some kind of progress in a week or two’s time, people will say: ‘that happened at Davos and things are moving forward because of that’?

Børge Brende: I do hope that we will end the week with clear results. We’ve always been able to do so in the past. Nelson Mandela coming to Davos as the president of South Africa and on his way back he said that he understood more deeply how important it is also to receive investments in South Africa. And his leadership was so important. You also saw the Global Fund and GAVI, the global vaccination programmes, being launched in Davos.

So I do hope that this year we can come out of Davos with real confirmation of the climate positions and the commitments that countries took on at Glasgow. I also hope that we can come out of Davos agreeing that we should not think [of] decoupling of trade and introduce new tariffs. We should be thinking win-win. I also hope that we can have the CEOs for Ukraine committing that business will also help and support in the rebuilding of Ukraine. A global Marshall Plan for Ukraine would be something very, very important.

Robin Pomeroy: Finally, you were at a press conference yesterday where one journalist asked you this question: after COVID-19 meant that Davos 2022 couldn’t happen in January as usual, will this be ‘Davos business as usual’? I think you gave him quite the response to that.

Børge Brende: I said there is no business as usual anymore. We just have to internalise that the world has changed and is changing very fast and new. We need new business models and not the old ones, to address climate change, inequality, the war in Ukraine, but also the food crisis and also oceans being filled with plastic litter.

We just need to think differently. We have to care about our planet. We have to care about people, and we have to, again, find global solutions on global challenges.

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This piece was first published here.

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