Davos – No snow, no consensus, no relevance?

Swiss alps

Now as a keen skier and a lover of the European Alps – Davos will always hold a place in my heart.

But at the end of last month it transformed, as it does annually, into the equivalent of the old debutant season, and the sheer act of walking around in this otherwise normal ski resort means you are part of the global elite.

The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) is certainly an exclusive club, the 1% attend and have the right to come and lobby those in power and hope to not only affect change within their spheres but globally. That was its aim back in 1971 when it was first formed – the idea that power brokers from public and private sectors could come together to meet a mission statement “…improve the state of the world.”

Therefore, it is unsurprising that once again climate change was a hot topic.

Never one to miss an opportunity Greenpeace have released data which shows that to reach this exclusive club, 1 out of every 10 attendees came by private jet, doubling the local airports flights and increasing CO2 emissions by the equivalent of 350,000 cars. But moving past the glaring irony of that statistic this year was particularly poignant.

With a significant warm winter in Europe the usually picturesque snow capped mountains were bare and the temperature was over 2 degrees warmer than usual. Therefore, when participants were told their focus would be on addressing and curbing climate change, maybe their stark surroundings helped focus the mind a little.

CEOs were quick to point to initiatives which are helping them and their companies reach net zero, with more than 11,000 businesses signed up to the pledge to reach the milestone by 2050 (September 2022 UN Figures), you would think this is a good news story. Yet with the war in the Ukraine still looming large and the ensuing inflationary pressures, privately bankers were discussing how to curb the environmental pressures without adversely affecting investment decision making. This made even more poignant by the sentencing of the “Barclays 7” at the end of January, who lifted the lid on the banks $19billion investment in fossil fuels, in direct contradiction of the IEAs decree there could be no new investment.

The UN Secretary General (Antonio Guterres) has certainly increased his rhetoric since the IPCC has declared that even with an increase in pledges, the world will miss its 1.5-degree goal, and without significant intervention will reach 2.8%.

He has implored businesses to “put forward credible and transparent transition plans on how to achieve net zero … which must be grounded in real emissions cuts” before the end of 2023. He also stated with no uncertainty that “The transition to net zero must be grounded in real emissions cuts – and not rely on carbon credits and shadow markets.” Which is the strongest rhetoric on this we have seen.

A WEF report (along with the Boston Consulting Group) which was shared stated that those prepared to take the risk and be an early mover will have the opportunity to make “fortunes”. Touting Orsted (previously Dong), Tesla and Beyond Meat as examples.

But with Germany touting their “clean credentials” due to their absolute requirement to decouple from its reliance on Russian Coal and Gas and increasing its renewable capacity to a likely 80% of its grid, the power of the oil and gas giants at the elite table may be waning.

Previous years has seen them be accused of hijacking the debate and maybe they are realising their influence is less at the table with CEOs with stakeholders to answer to and more on the policy stage.

Their agenda is well protected by the appointment of HE Dr Sultan Al Jaber as the lead to the COP28 summit in the UAE this year. I may be incorrect, I mean it’s not like he is motivated by ensuring returns from his oil business – the 12th largest globally, or from making sure those in that line of business aren’t hampered too much, maybe he will provide a balanced and fair approach to his presidency of the COP28 conference – NOT!

Overall do I think Davos moved the needle – no – did it achieve its ambition for “bold collective action” on “ongoing crises” absolutely not, did it create “cooperation in a fragmented world” I do not believe so.

Therefore, the question must be asked if the relevancy of the not-for-profit is really anything more than a status symbol that you meet the criteria and are rich or powerful enough to come in. Surely we can and should do better, or we should move away from the antiquated “boys club” and leave the alps to those on skis.