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Editorial: The World Economic Forum met at the end of May, and the mood was grim

by Bibiana Campos Seijo
June 3, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 20


The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), an international, nongovernmental lobbying organization that seeks to influence global agendas and decision-making, took place May 22–26 in Davos, Switzerland. The annual meeting, which has been held since 1971, brought together more than 2,000 members and invited participants—political and business leaders, investors, economists, and celebrities—who are committed to “improving the state of the world.”

The concept for this high-profile conference, often simply called Davos, is simple: “The only way to solve global challenges is through global solutions.” By establishing a place where businesses, governments, and nonprofits can connect, share insights, and launch initiatives, the WEF aims to become a starting point for global cooperation. But it’s not clear that it’s accomplishing that.

One of the most important topics at this forum was the war in Ukraine and its impact on the global economy. Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a keynote address from his location in Kyiv that was well received but set a darker-than-usual tone for the proceedings. Other themes included the food, energy, and climate crises; the environment; technology; the economy; the future of work, and more.

It was the first in-person WEF since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The return of travel prompted criticism of the forum’s carbon footprint. Many high-profile attendees of Davos often travel there in private jets, which raises questions about their personal commitment to the environment. But the organizers have argued that these and other emissions related to the 5-day forum are offset by the events’ support of environmental projects in the locality and beyond.

Though those projects are certainly important, we should hold these leaders to a very high standard and not use the old polluter pays principle as a justification. Be it at the corporate or individual level, WEF attendees should be expected to do better.

The sustainability agenda was once again strong at the WEF, but it was against a backdrop of global uncertainty. German vice chancellor Robert Habeck summarized the situation eloquently. “We have at least four crises, which are interwoven,” he said. “We have high inflation . . . we have an energy crisis . . . we have food poverty, and we have a climate crisis. And we can’t solve the problems if we concentrate on only one of the crises,” Reuters reports.

John Kerry, the US special envoy for climate, warned against leveraging Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a way that counters the progress already made on energy and climate. “Nobody doubts that there are challenges to meet current energy demands, but that does not mean that we should drill a lot more, pump a lot more, or build more infrastructure to make up for what Russia is cutting us out from,” he said, according to Eco-Business.

So what was new at the WEF? The war in Ukraine is certainly sobering. The semi-return to normal post-COVID-19 is welcome news. Other than this, not much was new. Some window dressing and posturing is to be expected with such big names, but the fundamental challenges remain. And the world is at a point where more is needed—especially from the developed nations involved in the WEF. Globalization is a driving force behind Davos, but as corporations and individuals in the developed world become wealthier, how are their counterparts in developing nations faring? Prosperity has not favored all equally, and this may be the WEF’s downfall.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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