What will dominate Davos 2020?

Expect climate change to take centre stage at the gathering of global leaders as British attendance hits decade-long low

Davos, World Economic Forum
A sniper stands guard over the Swiss ski resort of Davos
(Image credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

World leaders, policymakers and chief executives are descending on the tiny Swiss Alps town of Davos this week for the annual World Economic Forum, with this year’s gathering set to be dominated by Donald Trump and climate change.

The US president is scheduled to address the forum tomorrow, the same day his impeachment trial begins in the US Senate.

Bloomberg says Trump “has increasingly embraced the elites he chided in his rise to power as a populist, and will celebrate his trade deal with China while warning against socialism - likely a welcome message at the world’s foremost capitalist confab”.

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Following the release of new data showing that 2019 was the second-hottest year on record, the global warming crisis will be one of the summit’s central topics, says the New York Times, “which could lead to quite the standoff” between Trump and the 17-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who is also attending.

CNN says “the headliners have clashed on social media and may steer clear of each other in Davos”, but attendees will not be able to avoid climate change given the theme of the meeting is ‘Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World’ and the World Economic Forum (WEF) is asking all companies present to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Until the financial crash of 2007-08, “attending Davos was considered a must for the great and good,” says BBC business reporter Daniel Thomas. “But critics have suggested it is a symbol of the ‘global elite’, some of whom are to blame for that crisis.”

Last year Time magazine editor-at-large, Anand Giridharadas, described Davos as “a family reunion for the people who broke the modern world”.

With Trump on trial for abuse of power, “the Davos elites should be in the dock too”, agrees Robert Reich in The Guardian.

“Popular anger is boiling over against elites seen as irredeemably greedy, corrupt and indifferent to the plight of most people struggling to get by,” he writes, with capitalism’s global elite “under assault for abusing its power as well: fueling inequality, fostering corruption and doing squat about climate change”.

In a sign of just how politically toxic the gathering of leaders has become in recent years, after last month’s election win Boris Johnson imposed a ban on ministers attending Davos “to avoid alienating swathes of Northern voters who swung behind the Conservatives for the first time”, says The Daily Telegraph.

It means the 239-strong UK attendance is the lowest for a decade, down 30% on the 2011 peak.

Chancellor Sajid Javid has been granted an exemption from the veto, however, and will address the CBI’s Davos lunch for UK business on Thursday.

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Elliott Goat is a freelance writer at The Week Digital. A winner of The Independent's Wyn Harness Award, he has been a journalist for over a decade with a focus on human rights, disinformation and elections. He is co-founder and director of Brussels-based investigative NGO Unhack Democracy, which works to support electoral integrity across Europe. A Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellow focusing on unions and the Future of Work, Elliott is a founding member of the RSA's Good Work Guild and a contributor to the International State Crime Initiative, an interdisciplinary forum for research, reportage and training on state violence and corruption.