- The Forum asked experts to weigh in on which issues merit the most attention going into next week’s Annual Meeting.
- These excerpts reflect diverse takes on what should be top-of-mind.
- Some issues to be discussed at Davos 2022 include the impacts of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the lingering threat of COVID-19, and shifting geopolitical influence.
“May you live in interesting times.”
The origins of this passive-aggressive curse may be unclear, but its meaning is apparent. These are indeed very interesting times, which may make it more difficult than usual to choose among the many publicly-available sessions slated for the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2022 in Davos next week – the first in-person staging of the event since January 2020.
A few things have happened since then. A pandemic that continues to claim lives and disrupt daily existence, a devastating war being waged in Ukraine with dire implications for the rest of the world, and a UN climate report warning that we’re on a “fast track” to disaster, to name just a few.
What follows are excerpts from interviews with five experts highlighting what they see as the biggest issues currently demanding our attention at Davos 2022.
First up: the historian Adam Tooze, director of the European Institute at Columbia University, host of Foreign Policy’s weekly economics podcast, and author of books including “Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World.”
He addressed the severity of sanctions now being directed at Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, and made a comparison with those previously applied to Iran – which have been devastating for that country’s economy:
“The single most important piece of advice a historian can give in this current moment is we really actually need to understand what we’ve embarked on… when somebody says ‘Oh, we’re going to do Iran-style sanctions here,’ you have to say, ‘You understand the difference between Iran and Russia, don’t you? Iranians don’t have nuclear weapons’.”
Another issue to be discussed at Davos 2022 is that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also stirred concern about impacts on progress made to date combatting climate change and shifting away from fossil fuels.
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, responded to the notion that maintaining economic stability and employment levels may now require some easing of climate efforts:
“We have to go faster, not slower. I mean, there are no jobs on a dead planet. So if we’re serious about the only home we know, and stabilizing the planet, then you can only deal with this convergence of crisis areas in an integrated way. Those fossil fuel companies for example, particularly gas, who’ve argued that you have to slow it down, that they’re vital to the economy. Well, let’s go faster. Let’s invest in renewables more deeply, more quickly, let’s actually look at how you create decent work in those industries.”
As efforts are made to stay focused on climate change, some experts are advocating for a similarly-coordinated, global push to preserve biodiversity – particularly at a time of increasingly irreversible loss of ecosystems.
Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, said the way forward is to make organizations answerable for declining biodiversity – and to establish a global goal to halt and reverse nature loss:
“Accountability that today doesn’t exist on nature, it exists on climate… you can tell today very easily if a company is in line with net zero or not. On nature, everybody says and does what they can, but nobody knows, nobody can say, ‘this is not enough.’ In fact we know it’s not enough, because nature continues to decline, but there’s no accountability in the system. So, we need a global goal for nature.”
The pandemic still looms large for experts eyeing challenges on the horizon. Ilona Szabó, co-founder and president of the Rio de Janeiro-headquartered Igarapé Institute, tackled the tricky question for Davos 2022 of how to continue keeping people safe as the health crisis lingers – while also enabling them to return to a kind of normal.
It may be tempting to dismiss the threat still posed by COVID-19 for political gain, she said, but that would be reckless:
“Governments have the responsibility to do the right thing, even if it’s hard. This cannot be disputed. We understand that COVID-19 and its variants are not finished with us, but policy-makers in some parts of the world and citizens are finished with the virus. We are at a very challenging moment… the pandemic is continuing to generate massive political, social, and economic effects. Not least disrupting global supply chains. But we expect from leaders that they do the right thing, even if it costs mandates, even if it costs [them] reelection.”
Shifts in economic and geopolitical influence should also be in focus, according to Kishore Mahbubani.
The author, former UN Security Council President, and Distinguished Fellow at National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute predicts an “an Asian 21st century.” He referred to International Monetary Fund bylaws that call for the institution’s head office to be located in the largest member economy – something current global powers may one day have difficulty digesting:
“In nominal market terms, the United States is still 1.5 times larger than China, but within ten years there’s a very good possibility, indeed probably a very good probability, that China will become the number one market in nominal market terms… and if you can imagine the psychological shock in Washington, D.C. of having to deal with the IMF leaving Washington, D.C. to go to Beijing, then I think you’ll begin to understand how difficult it will be to adjust to a completely different world.”
More thoughts on issues to be discussed at Davos 2022 from each of the experts featured here (and from several other experts) have been captured in a series of Transformation Maps that are now available on the Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform.