DAVOS – Elites from politics, business, academia and the arts on Friday wrapped up the World Economic Forum 's annual conclave in the Swiss town of Davos — where worries about the war in Ukraine, a warming planet and a cooling global economy dominated discussions about the world's ills.
The 53rd edition of the weeklong gathering in the Alps drew notables like Ukraine's first lady, climate activist Greta Thunberg, and actor Idris Elba, plus hundreds of presidents, prime ministers, CEOs and other decision-makers who hashed out deals and voiced demands on everything from trade to tanks for Ukraine.
The meeting perennially draws criticism as a hub of power-mongers and money-grubbers seeking to rule the world, and this year was no exception. Longtime attendee and Kremlin critic Bill Browder launched a tirade about sitting out this year because the forum sought to triple the cost of his participation to $250,000.
Some deep-pocketed execs shell out upward of $1 million a year to be members of the WEF club.
It's anybody's guess whether an event that churns up pledges, promises and partnerships to help realize the forum's ambition of improving the world will bring any concrete progress.
Here's a look at some of the main Davos takeaways this year:
AID PUSH FROM UKRAINE
A Ukrainian delegation headed to the Swiss mountains to push for funding, weapons and other aid — capped with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy beaming in by video — for the war-torn country as the anniversary of Russia’s invasion draws closer.
First lady Olena Zelenska urged the power brokers in Davos ramp up support, saying in a speech Tuesday that “there is something that separates you, namely that not all of you use this influence, or sometimes use it in a way that separates you even more.”
Zelenskyy urged his allies to speed up the delivery of more advanced weapons in a keynote speech and later gave a veiled critique of major supporters such as Germany and the U.S. that have hesitated about sending tanks.
“There are times where we shouldn’t hesitate or we shouldn’t compare when someone says, ‘I will give tanks if someone else will also share his tanks,’” said Zelenskyy, who reiterated his plea Friday as Western allies met at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz — the only leader from the Group of Seven leading economies at Davos — has faced growing pressure to provide Ukraine with tanks but avoided directly answering the question Wednesday.
Germany will remain one of Ukraine’s top weapons suppliers, he said, and “we are never doing something just by ourselves, but together with others — especially the United States.”
CLIMATE CHANGE TAKES CENTER STAGE
While panel sessions spanned topics from green investment to greenwashing, Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate and other young climate activists brought the fire to the corporate VIPs and political leaders tuning into the talks.
The activists slammed the heavy-hitters at Davos for prioritizing short-term profits from fossil fuels over people affected by the climate crisis. Ugandan activist Nakate choked up during a roundtable with the head of the International Energy Agency, saying “leaders are playing games” with people’s futures.
She and Thunberg capped the week with a small climate protest Friday where activists hoisted signs saying, “There is no planet B" and chanting that “fossil fuels have got to go." It added a bookend: Dozens of climate activists — some with clown makeup — braved snowfall to demonstrate Sunday.
Even global financial leaders got heated about the climate.
International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, when asked for one thing she would change to accelerate the net zero transition, said she would lock the U.S., China, India and European Union in a room.
“Let them out after they sign in blood a commitment to work together to save the planet,” she said to applause.
GREEN INVESTMENT RACE
A U.S. clean energy law that benefits American-made products such as electric vehicles got major airtime. Some worry about European companies getting shut out of the U.S. market and being denied green tech investment.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented a major clean tech industrial plan to ease the way for green industry subsidies and pool EU-wide projects that are boosted with major funding.
Some leaders called the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act a catalyst. U.K. opposition leader Keir Starmer says the law is “the single biggest opportunity we’ve been given for a very long time to transition, to take the jobs and opportunities of the future.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in the same session Thursday that the world should be happy after years of telling the U.S. “to step up on climate change.’ Now, they are doing it.”
EU Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis says an EU-U.S. task force has a solution on EV tax credits but “many other areas" must be addressed.
The law doesn’t intend to hurt U.S. allies but get clean technology to scale quickly, Sen. Joe Manchin said.
To calm geopolitical unrest and help the environment, “you better be able to do it quicker, faster and better than any place in the world and then share it with your friends. That’s what we’re going to do,” the West Virginia Democrat said.
GLOBAL ECONOMY AVOIDS DISASTER?
Many bigwigs said economic expectations are improving from the train wreck they feared amid high inflation and slowing growth.
The IMF's Georgieva said inflation is heading down and the outlook for the global economy is “less bad than we feared a couple of months ago.” Likewise, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said, “It’s not a brilliant year, but it is a lot better than what we had feared."
In a panel Friday, both pointed to an expected rebound in China, which Lagarde said “most likely will be a positive for the rest of the world" but may boost inflation as the world’s second-largest economy consumes more energy.
After easing of COVID-19 restrictions, Chinese Vice Premier Liu said the country expects to see a major rise in imports, more investment by companies and return to regular consumption habits over the coming months.
“If we work hard enough, we are confident that in 2023, China’s growth will most likely return to its normal trend," he said Tuesday in an address in Davos.
Many economists had forecast recession in major economies like the U.S. and Europe at the beginning of 2023 as painfully high inflation fueled by the war in Ukraine led central banks to jack up interest rates that slow the economy. That may not materialize, with some forecasts signaling 0.5% growth this year in the U.S. and Europe, but those facing high prices may not notice.
Speaking to The Associated Press at Davos, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon offered some advice: “The important thing is what is going on in geopolitics around the world, not whether you have a mild recession or harder recession, etc.”
Bonnell reported from London. Associated Press journalists Masha Macpherson and David Keyton in Davos contributed.
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