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Jim McClelland looks at what’s been happening in Davos

With globalisation dead (or dying), the politicos stayed away from Davos this year, busy fighting economic fires on the home front.

Whilst that may have dampened media spirits, it did not damage the business case for sustainability one little bit, argues Jim McClelland.

It is that time of year again, when the Swiss Alps echo to the sound of cocktail glasses being emptied on expenses, as the celebrity caravan of powerbrokers and policymakers rolls into snow-town for its annual jamboree. In other words, Davos is with us once more.

For 2023, however, the week-long get-together of the World Economic Forum seemed a little changed.

It was back IRL (in real life) this January — not happening virtually and rescheduled, as in 2022 — but, the difference was not just down to post-pandemic blues.

Globalisation might be dead (or dying), but global collaboration is not.

Jim McClelland Jim McClelland Sustainable futurist, editor, journalist, speaker

So, who wasn’t there?

Last year, the notable absentees were mostly no-fly showbiz influencers and management gurus, taking care to keep themselves Covid-free.

This winter, though, it was the political heavyweights who were staying home — electing to tackle domestic economic woes, instead of indulging in a heady mix of glad-handing and global grandstanding.

Make no mistake, those with deals to do still set out their stalls.

Manchester United were there, serving up ‘Red Devil’ drinks from behind a big ‘For Sale’ sign in their luxury lounge.

Keir Starmer also put in an appearance, pitching to capture the business vote and pave the way to reposition the UK for a life beyond Boris and Brexit.

Overall, though, the bigger picture was looking… well, smaller.

Risks ranked over time

The release of the 2023 WEF Global Risks Report summed up the mood, with talk of the ‘turbulent Twenties’, as crises converge, interests conflict and mixed messages abound.

Its analysis offers a to-do list of what to worry about and when. It shows how perceptions mutate over time, even if some of the risks themselves are effectively ever-present.

So, looking ahead for the next two years, the Cost of living crisis is not surprisingly ranked the number one risk.

By contrast, over a 10-year period, failure to mitigate climate change is the issue firmly fixed at the top of the longer-term agenda.

In part, the time-shift in priorities towards the immediate is understandable. The spectre of a global recession looms larger by the day. Inflation and interest rates are taxing finance ministers with headache-inducing debt burdens and giving the stock market the jitters.

So, in a low-to-no-growth economic scenario, will climate action simply have to wait while states steady their ships and people pay their bills?

Globalisation is dead (or dying)

No. Globalisation might be dead (or dying), but global collaboration is not.

Davos remains an influential launch-pad for the collective endeavours of the world’s movers and shakers. It is where numbers and names get put to causes and campaigns.

One new initiative, extravagantly entitled Giving to Amplify Earth Action (GAEA), will leverage philanthropic capital to help generate the $3tr needed each year from public and private sources to tackle climate change and nature loss.

To put these figures in perspective, whilst philanthropic giving totalled a whopping $810bn in 2021, only 2% of that sum actually went towards reducing emissions. There is ample room for improvement.

To help global supply chains ready themselves for a fast-approaching slew of 2030 climate targets, Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also issued a call for urgent reforms to carbon pricing, import tariffs and regulatory issues.

Top CEOs from real estate got in on the climate act, too — pledging to reduce buildings-related emissions by at least 50% by 2030 and be fully net-zero carbon no later than 2050.

Plus, in a bid to deliver more equitable trade deals, a set of four initiatives was launched with the aim of making the way we do business greener, more inclusive and efficient.

Reflecting this underlying need to pull together, the concluding missive from Davos sought to reassure all concerned that cooperation and resilience can mend a fractured world.

So, is the key sustainability take-away from the Forum this year more concerned with collaboration and compassion, than it is commerce?

Has Davos gone all warm and fuzzy?

The business case is clear

Again, no. Sustainability is good for business, just ask Larry Fink…

The BlackRock CEO famously delivers his Open Letter to business every year at Davos.

In the run-up to the 2023 event, BlackRock had been attracting some criticism and losing some assets as a result of its drive to mainstream environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment criteria.

Fink himself even felt under personal attack.

The situation is serious; the dialogue difficult. The business case, however, is easy.

At Davos, Fink revealed that the sums lost, $4bn, were almost nothing compared to the total taken in from US clients for 2022 by the world’s biggest asset manager: $230bn.

The present view is cloudy, for sure; but, the future is clear.

Jim McClelland is a Sustainable futurist, editor, journalist, speaker