Top government officials, business executives, activists and celebrities have descended on the Swiss mountain village of Davos this week for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF). With the world facing concurrent crises related to climate, conflict and technological disruption, this year’s gathering aims to focus on “rebuilding trust” among nations and institutions.
Recession Fears Loom Over Elite Confab
The 2024 WEF meeting comes as the global economy teeters on the brink of recession following aggressive interest rate hikes by central banks last year intended to fight soaring inflation.
Many economists predict a downturn this year even as inflation shows signs of easing. The International Monetary Fund trimmed its 2023 global growth forecast to 2.9% from 3.1%, warning that the “worst is yet to come” and that 2023 will “feel like a recession” for many people.
Global Growth Forecasts
|International Monetary Fund
With the world facing the most complex backdrop in recent memory, the Davos crowd — representing the top 0.001% of the world’s richest and most powerful — is on the defensive amid criticism that its priorities are misplaced.
“There is a smell of decadence hanging over Davos this year,” said Carlos Oxfam, an analyst at the humanitarian group Oxfam International. “The world is teetering on the brink of recession and climate disaster, while the richest still line their pockets.”
Soaring energy and food costs drove faster inflation last year that has squeezed consumers and businesses. Central banks have been raising interest rates to fight stubborn inflation even as economic growth shows signs of slowing substantially.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated inflation by making food and energy costs more expensive. At the same time, the conflict has diminished economic expectations for this year.
The war in Ukraine will be a major theme at this week’s gathering in Davos. Both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg are expected to address the forum.
Climate and Conflict Take Center Stage
While recession fears hang over the exclusive gathering, climate change and global conflicts are expected to dominate the discussion among the roughly 2,700 attendees.
The forum has moved beyond its traditional focus on business, economics and technology to include world leaders and representatives of civil society. The annual meeting strives to find solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.
Davos 2024 Notable Attendees
|Heads of State
|German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
|JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen
|Harvard President Larry Bacow, Broad Institute Director Eric Lander
|UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
|Jane Goodall (primatologist), David Attenborough (broadcaster/naturalist)
|Pharrell Williams, Lenny Kravitz
This year’s conference priorities include averting climate catastrophe, mitigating the cost-of-living crisis, relieving world hunger, future-proofing global health systems, building a prosperous and equitable world, closing the global wealth gap and positive change through social justice.
Geopolitics, pandemic aftershocks, climate change, energy crunches and the ensuing cost of living crisis have fostered distrust and made cooperation much more difficult.
Key Discussion Topics
- Mitigating climate change
- Resolving conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza
- Managing disruptive technological change like AI
- Bolstering pandemic preparedness
- Reforming global tax systems
- Improving cybersecurity
There appears to be some skepticism about whether the high-minded discussions will lead to meaningful action. Critics argue the Davos gathering has become more about status, influence peddling and self-congratulatory rhetoric.
India Brings Large Contingent to Woo Investors
A large delegation from India, led by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, will pitch the country as an attractive business destination. Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal along with chief ministers of Indian states will also participate in the summit.
India is projected to overtake China as the world’s most populous country this year. While its economy is growing faster than most major nations, joblessness remains a huge problem.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is not attending Davos 2024 in person, will address the forum virtually on January 18. He is expected to highlight India’s stable macroeconomic indicators and its ability to carry out structural reforms during times of global uncertainty.
With protectionism rising across the world due to recessionary pressures, India will likely stress the need for enhancing bilateral trade ties. New Delhi may even raise issues like mutual recognition agreements and sanitary and phytosanitary measures during trade negotiations.
According to officials, India’s strategic priorities, transition to sustainable development and climate action, financing for development, India’s G20 priorities and so on will also take precedence during the various sessions.
The country’s information technology sector is also expected to feature prominently during Davos 2024, especially in the context of India’s assume the G20 presidency.
India’s Growth vs Major Economies
|2023 GDP Growth Forecast
With protectionism and economic uncertainties looming large across the world, India’s presence in Davos this year holds significance as it cements country’s position as one of the important voices highlighting concerns of the developing world.
Conspicuous Display of Private Jets Attract Scorn
The concentration of wealth and influence in Davos this week is also drawing scorn from critics highlighting gross inequities as the world faces concurrent crises.
Hundreds of private jets are expected to fly in an estimated 1,500 business leaders and 90 heads of state and government for exclusive parties and high-minded panel discussions at the Davos summit.
Estimated Private Jet Traffic for Davos 2024
Aviation experts expect up to 1,700 private jet flights over the week. With average private jet usage emitting over 20 times more carbon dioxide per passenger than commercial flights, environmental activists call the explosion in flights hypocritical for a conference focused on climate change.
“This is the most out-of-touch, highest emission conference on Earth,” said Klara Maria Schenkman of Friends of the Earth.
“It seems they preach sobriety for humanity while partying and polluting behind closed doors and in the skies overhead,” added Schenkman.
Conference attendees pay $28,000 for annual memberships allowing access to the elite gathering. Critics argue Davos has become a networking event for world’s richest executives who party their way through the conferences.
“What happens in Davos stays in Davos has been true for years,” said Paul Donovan of UBS Global Wealth Management in noting reports of wild parties.
Outlook: Cooperation Seen as Imperative
The convergence of so many crises has made international cooperation more vital than ever, WEF President Børge Brende said in an interview ahead of the gathering.
“The geopolitical fragmentation and the macroeconomic volatility we are facing right now are challenging this cooperation,” he said.
Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the U.S., told reporters in Berlin that he expects a “rather gloomy mood” in Davos.
“The real problems are not inflation or recession: the real structural problems we face are climate change and world peace,” said Ischinger, who chairs the Munich Security Conference. “I only hope the Get together in Davos leads doesn’t end with empty words but perhaps a little bit of inspiration back to Berlin, Paris, London and Washington too.”
USAID Administrator Samantha Power told reporters that “even as obviously we all have domestic constraints and concerns at home, we can’t afford to be hunkered down.”
Without cooperation and financing to curb climate change, fight pandemics and deal with global impacts of the war like increasing hunger, “that represents an existential threat to citizens across the world,” Power said.
So while economies hover on the brink of recession and unavoidable challenges loom ahead, leaders converge on Davos looking to bridge divisions in pursuit of badly needed international cooperation.
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