When I tell friends I’m off for the World Economic Forum in Davos, they usually assume this is some kind of boondoggle. Five days in a Swiss alpine town, at a conference with more than 2,400 global political, economic and cultural leaders, including 800 top CEOs — the assumption is that Davos is one big party on the ski slopes.
Well, there are a lot of receptions and parties. But the astonishing bit is that its packed sessions offer an acute snapshot of global trends.
This year’s focus is on ‘the shifting power equation’ — another way of saying that global economic and political power is fragmenting and the American unipolar moment is gone.
This is a chastened Davos, with no country or region being lionised, and a frisson of unease about the political future. A survey of participants showed that 61 per cent believed that the next generation will live in a less safe world.
If the era of US primacy is gradually passing, no one knows who or what will succeed it. For the first time, China, Brazil, Russia and India account for 40 per cent of world output. The Asian consumers are playing an increasingly important role in global demand.
But the world still depends on America as a reliable growth engine. And, as China’s economic power grows, we don’t know how responsible they will be.
The Davos panels on geopolitics pay sad testimony to the decline of US global influence. Several focus on the troubles in Iraq, and many of Iraq’s top leaders will attend. Lebanon’s prime minister Fuad Saniora will be here, along with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. The meetings on the Middle East’s future are likely to be glum.
This year’s meeting focuses heavily on environmental issues, with 17 panels on aspects of climate change. The organisers are getting huge demand from members to place climate change and issues of environmental security at the very heart of the program.
What makes this issue especially appropriate is that many top corporate leaders in the energy field are pushing for US government action to reduce carbon emissions. They are way out in front of the Bush White House on the issue.
This issue is so hot that even a reluctant President Bush had to touch on it in his State of the Union message. If one trend defines this year’s Davos, it may be the recognition that the world can’t wait any longer to confront climate change.
— The New York Times