The organisers of the World Economic Forum (WEF), trying to galvanise action among global political and business leaders attending this year’s Davos to combat climate change, only need to point to the pitiful dusting of snow on the ground of Europe’s highest town for this year’s gathering to highlight the impact of global warming.
More than a third of the scores of panel discussions at this year’s four-day event, which got under way on Tuesday, are linked to the climate crisis. Still, the environment appears to be down the list of immediate issues, dominated by the flagging global economy and geopolitical friction, exercising the global elite this January. After all, the world is possibly on the cusp of recession and the war in Ukraine is nearly a year old now.
But there is one topic where all three themes are converging in the Davos corridors: the prospect of a transatlantic green trade dispute following the enactment of US president Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act last summer.
It provides for a record $369 billion (€341 billion) spending on climate and energy policies, including tax breaks for US-made electric vehicles. Yet it has been heavily criticised by some EU countries, who see it as discriminatory against carmakers on this side of the Atlantic. The European Commission has said that it has “serious concerns” about elements of the package.
Commission president Ursula von der Leyen issued her response at Davos on Tuesday, saying her officials are now drafting laws to support the region’s green industries – with the help of state aid and a sovereign wealth fund.
Bring it on, said Al Gore, the former US vice-president and climate activist. Speaking on a panel on decarbonisation, Gore said that he has been encouraging Europe to match what the US is doing.
He said that political agreement reached before Christmas on the introduction of an EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), which aims to tax imports according to carbon emitted in their production, was already a great first step.
“If implemented properly, it could lead to a race to the top,” he said, “where countries try to outdo each other in moving faster to net-zero technologies.”
With this year’s WEF largely failing to draw the roll-call of the celebrities of Davos’s past, British actor Idris Elba and his wife Sabrina Dhowre Elba, both UN Goodwill Ambassadors for the International Fund for Agricultural Development, are almost single-handedly holding up the star wattage this year.
It was not Idris’s first appearance, either. The last time he travelled to Davos in 2014, it was to perform as a DJ at a party. This time, the reason is altogether more serious: campaigning for food security and attempts to tackle climate change.
“The poor of this world are not just looking for aid and handouts, they’re looking for investment,” said the star of the early 2000s series The Wire and Mandela: Walk to Freedom. “We understand the power and change that can come from this room. We can move with agility and speed and your speed is needed now.”
He received the customary round of applause from the well-heeled gathering. But were they actually listening?