At The WEF: Inside-Davos-Report

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“Greetings, delegates and WEF watchers!We’ve reached the halfway mark: two days of discussions, prognostications, and billionaires’ dinner parties down; two to go. Today’s weather forecast looks a lot like yesterday’s, which is to say still very un-Davos like. Keep that umbrella handy.How detached are markets from economic reality? Less so now than a few weeks ago, certainly. But the question remained a compelling title for a panel Tuesday at the Congress Centre, where Goldman Sachs’ Kathryn Koch said now is no time to sell. “[T]his is the point where people inflict a lot of damage” on their portfolios by capitulating, she argued.Instead, there are now some “overly discounted” stocks in the tech market that are worth a look, she said, primarily in semiconductors (still the backbone of innovation), cybersecurity (where the geopolitical tailwind is strong), and software. If you want to test her thesis, find any CEO on the Promenade this week and ask if they intend to cut their enterprise spending. “Very few of them will say yes,” Koch predicted.👀 WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAYThe future of Europe. A few years ago, the prospective splintering of the European Union loomed over every post-Brexit conversation. But after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, unity on the continent has heralded fresh hope for the European project. Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, joins the leaders of Ireland, the Slovak Republic, and the Netherlands in a livestreamed 10am panel to lay out the future of a more assertive Europe.The cost of living. The dilemma of modern livelihoods is this: Prices are now rising furiously, just after covid depressed wages in two-thirds of the world’s countries. How can policymakers remedy this? At 11:45am, economist Adam Tooze steers his panelists through the thickets of inflation control. Then a 4pm session addresses the really thorny question: How do we ensure that companies and governments pay fair living wages for their workers?#TeamEarth. What do John Kerry,, Kristalina Georgieva, and Yo-Yo Ma have in common? They’re all Marc Benioff’s guests today at an invitation-only lunch in the Salesforce dome.Everything, everywhere, all at once. At 5:30pm, Davos witnesses a perfect storm of sessions about some of the biggest geopolitical questions facing the world. One group of speakers discusses how to devise better ESG standards, while Al Gore and his fellow panelists lambast greenwashing. Fareed Zakaria asks policymakers and bankers about “economic iron curtains” and new blocs of economic cooperation arising in the wake of the Ukraine war. A new research commission seeks to understand how to value and manage water. Another panel debates the future of the global gig economy.🔌 MOYNIHAN FEELS FOR MUSKLast week, Elon Musk took Standard & Poor’s to task, incensed that Tesla got dropped from the firm’s index of companies with high environmental, social, and governance (ESG) scores, while Exxon and other oil companies were included. Musk’s beef boils down to a complaint that ESG scores are meaningless because the methods used to tally them are shadowy, inconsistent, and don’t reflect a company’s real impact on the climate.Brian Moynihan, Bank of America’s CEO, is sympathetic. “I have the same frustration,” he said on a panel about improving ESG. Government regulators need to set clearer, more specific rules for corporate ESG disclosures, and make sure they are consistent internationally, Moynihan said. Without that clarity, warned Alan Jope, Unilever’s CEO, who was also on the panel, “we’re at a point of great danger” that ESG becomes a costly rubber-stamping exercise for companies, and is seen as hot air by customers.🔮 DAVOS’ PROPHET OF DOOMThe George Soros dinner is a WEF institution, although it occurs on the sidelines of the summit. This year, at the Seehof Hotel, invitees drank champagne and mingled for a strict half-hour before being summoned to eat their salads, so that Soros could speak at 7pm sharp.Like a dapper-suited Cassandra, Soros warned his guests of the end of civilization, and not only because of climate change. Xi Jinping, gunning for a third term as China’s president, was pursuing a nihilistic zero-covid policy, Soros said, and Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine threatens to start a new world war. (At some point, chicken and polenta were served.) Soros praised Europe’s leaders for uniting during this crisis, but advocated forcefully that “the best and perhaps only way to preserve our civilization is to defeat Putin as soon as possible.” The more stirring show of support for Ukraine, though, came at a later Davos dinner, when an assembly of Ukrainians rose to sing their national anthem.👁️ POSITIVELY CLEAR-EYEDThe Nature Positive dinner organized by the World Wildlife Fund ran late into the evening, but those who left early missed out. Former US vice president Al Gore closed the event with a fiery speech that was part warning to the world and part encouragement to the environmentally conscious crowd in the SDG Tent.Echoing sentiments shared earlier in the program by Swiss philanthropist André Hoffmann (“It’s not getting better, is it?”) and Bezos Earth Fund director Andrew Steer, who acknowledged the dissonance between the passion in the room and the results on the ground, Gore addressed the specter of our collective failure to preserve nature and protect humanity. “We are entering a period of consequences,” Gore said. But “this group, small as it is but dedicated and passionate as you are…can make a difference. Do not doubt this is true.”Quartz😬 THE BOTTOM LINE
“Profit can’t be the goal here. Survival has to be the goal.”—Kahea Pacheco, co-executive director of Women’s Earth Alliance, at a session on accelerating corporate investment in nature.
🌍 AFRICA’S POTENTIAL“Singapore is a rock in the middle of the ocean? What do they have [that African countries don’t]? Human capital.” — Patrick Achi, prime minister of Côte d’IvoireCôte d’Ivoire is one of the world’s largest exporters of cocoa. Yet even though cocoa is a $138 billion market, Côte d’Ivoire only gets $8 billion a year from it. Human capacity constraints mean the country is mostly limited to exporting raw material. In a session on “Preparing for Africa’s Growing Global Role,” Achi estimated that if a significant portion of cocoa could be processed locally, the country’s GDP could grow by up to 70%.↔️ CHINA’S CHOICEAt a panel on China’s role in the energy transition, speakers circled the tension between renewables and the challenges of energy security. On one hand, China installed more wind power than the rest of the world combined, overachieving on Beijing’s climate goals. But a power crisis that caused rolling blackouts across the country looms over China’s climate ambitions, and energy security, as the panel noted, is back on the table.While this could mean more urgent investment in renewable energy, it more often means more investment in conventional energy, which for China means more coal.​​🎹 A LETDOWN, NO DOUBTThe headliner at Cloudflare’s annual Davos bash, Gwen Stefani, dropped out ahead of the Wednesday late-night party. “A personal emergency,” Cloudflare’s email explained. In her place, The Chainsmokers have been flown in to perform at Barry’s Piano Bar, midway through their US tour for their latest album, “So Far So Good.” They may take requests and dedications, in which case, we have a few suggestions:🎵 “You Owe Me” — as the crypto investors told the crypto bros🎵 ”I Hope You Change Your Mind” — a call-out to Elon Musk by Twitter shareholders🎵 “PS. I Hope You’re Happy” — dedicated to inflation hawks by rate-hiking central bankers🎵 “Something Just Like This” — for the disease experts warning about the next pandemic🎵 “Bloodstream” — for Stephane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna🎵 “It Won’t Kill Ya” — requested by the fossil fuel executives🎵 “Kills You Slowly” — requested immediately afterward by Al Gore🎵 “Everybody Hates Me” — requested in absentia by Vladimir Putin”

Greetings, delegates and WEF watchers!The first full day of Davos is behind you, and the weather for the most part was surprisingly sunny. Wish we could say the same about the economic predictions we heard (and about today’s expected weather ☔).On Monday, the World Economic Forum’s Community of Chief Economists issued forecasts of declining wages and high or very high inflation in most parts of the world in the near future. The planet may suffer the worst food crisis in recent history, and poor countries will have to pick between reining in debt and borrowing to buy food and fuel.Good thing, then, that the Financial Times’ Gillian Tett will moderate a panel today on bolstering the world’s crisis-management capacity.🛢️ THE ENERGY TRANSITION IN BARBED REMARKSThis is about as prickly as Davos gets: mildly sardonic comments dressed in jargon at a Monday session titled “Energy Outlook: Overcoming the Crisis.” A sampling:Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s minister for petroleum and natural gas: “Some time ago…[my foreign minister] asked me, ‘What is our dependence on Russian energy?’ I said, ‘The Europeans buy in one afternoon what we buy in a quarter.’”Vicki Hollub, CEO of Occidental Petroleum: “We’re getting a lot of headwinds in the United States…and one is the belief that we can end the use of oil and gas sooner rather than later. When you have that kind of rhetoric, you create an environment where people believe that’s possible—that makes investors and others less willing to invest in the industry.”Robert Habeck, Germany’s vice-chancellor and minister for economic affairs and climate action: “Now we see one of the problems,” he said, referencing a real-time audience poll conducted via a QR code displayed on stage. “Everyone is raising a smartphone. In the old days, you’d just raise your hand. You could save energy by not using the smartphone but by raising your hand.”✅ THE ECONOMY, IN ONE WORDGeoff Cutmore, moderator of a panel on the global economic outlook: “Are you pretty much convinced that Europe is headed for a recession?”Jane Fraser, CEO of Citi: “Yes.”📊 STATS WE HEARD DURING MONDAY’S SESSIONS2: Number of degrees by which Fatih Birol suggested Europeans turn down their thermostats next winter, to help save 20 billion cubic meters of gas, “equivalent to the gas coming through Nord Stream One.”25%: The chance that Team Transitory largely had it right and inflation will reverse itself gracefully, according to Harvard economist Jason Furman.30 million: Number of covid vaccine doses that Moderna is “throwing in the garbage” right now, according to CEO Stephane Bancel.1: Number of new billionaires created every 30 hours during the pandemic, according to Gabriela Bucher, the executive director of Oxfam. There are now 2,668 billionaires in the world, up from 2,095 pre-covid, and the wealth of the 10 richest people in the world is more than that of the poorest 40%, according to Oxfam’s new report on inequality (pdf), presented at the conference.📋 WHO’S HERE, ANYWAY?You never know who you’ll see on the Promenade, Davos’ main thoroughfare, but the WEF’s official list of attendees (pdf) offers some clues. Quartz’s examination of the roster reveals:Attendees include 🇺🇸 583 participants from the US, 🇨🇭 220 from Switzerland, 🇬🇧 211 from the UK, and 🇮🇳 109 from India.The tech sector turnout includes six representatives from Google, five each from Microsoft and IBM, four from Meta, and not a single one from Apple or Amazon.At least 42 attendees have the word “sustainability” in their job title.Check out our more detailed look at the list here.👬 DOPPELGÄNGERSNo, German chancellor Olaf Scholz is not on the list of Davos attendees. But US senator Chris Coons is—and The Economist’s Zanny Minton Beddoes couldn’t help but point out the resemblance as she introduced the Delaware Democrat from the stage in Congress Hall.Can you tell which is which?Demetrius Freeman/Pool via ReutersReuters/Fabrizio Bensch(That’s Coons above and Scholz below.)🔵 THE DAVOS BLUESApparently going green is also going to require being blue. On Monday, a panel discussed blue foods: aquatic foods produced sustainably. On Tuesday, a session devoted to “Unlocking the Potential of Blue Carbon (4pm at the Situation Room), will imagine how coastal wetlands might absorb more carbon dioxide. In a queue outside one Monday event, we heard one man ask another about his work with electric vehicles: “What are you using: green hydrogen or blue hydrogen? Most people think we have to start with blue hydrogen.” (While green hydrogen is produced from renewable energy, blue hydrogen is derived from methane.)As the writer Rebecca Solnit once wrote, blue is “the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not.” Worryingly for the sustainability industry, she also described blue as “the color of where you can never go.”🍨 SPRING TREATEver enjoy an ice cream outside at a WEF meeting before? Us either, until yesterday, when we came upon a heavenly stand outside the Infosys spot on the Promenade. The soft-serve drizzled with saffron water, date syrup, and cardamom was as good as it looked, and paired perfectly with the midday sun. Davos in May has its advantages.”

“Welcome back, Davos delegates and WEF watchers!It’s been a long two-plus years since we were last in the Alps, sending dispatches that captured the mostly positive mood of the 2020 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. In January that year, George Soros saw glimmers of hope for democracy. The descriptions of sessions used the word “opportunity” far more than the word “crisis.” But our first newsletter that week noted in passing that “China confirmed human-to-human transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus.”Well.At 2,000-odd participants, Davos is thinner on the ground than its 2020 iteration, which drew 3,000. Nevertheless, there will be plenty of news, gossip, and wonkery to report: hence this daily email. Over the next five days, Quartz’s Davos team will brave back-to-back sessions at the Congress Centre, flag down grandees for interviews, keep our ears pricked for stories, and swill nightcaps at soirees. If you’re at Davos as well, send us tips, party invitations, and umbrellas.👕 WARM INDEEDQuartzThis Swiss spring weather is unusually warm for a WEF meeting in Davos. (What’s a WEF without treading delicately on icy sidewalks?) Today’s forecast calls for a low of 50°F (10°C), a high of 68°F (20°C), and good chances of rain and thunderstorms most of the day. Trade in those crampons for some waterproof hiking boots, and you’ll be set.⚔️ THE SHADOW OF RUSSIAFor years, Vladimir Putin’s government sponsored Russia House, a Davos outpost where delegates drank shots of vodka and ate canapés. Not this year, though. With Russian companies and executives barred from WEF, the building has been turned into the Russia War Crimes House, a venue for an exhibition of photos from the Ukraine war.Reuters/Arnd WiegmannOn the WEF agenda, the Russia-Ukraine war is everywhere. One of the first panels of the day is on the use and efficacy of sanctions (8:45am in the Congress Centre and livestreamed). Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy beams in from Kyiv to address the assembly at 11:15am (also livestreamed). The Klitschko brothers—Vitali, boxer-turned-mayor of Kyiv, and Wladimir, boxer-turned-philanthropist—are on a stage at midday. In the afternoon, a panel wonders: “Russa: What Next?”Along with covid, the war has a defining presence in the WEF program this year. Even the topics of other discussions—refugees, oil and gas, globalization, food shortages—will point to Davos’ Russia anxiety in thin disguise.🌲 THE WORD IS “NATURE”Most of the climate panels at Davos this year are using the word “nature” instead to describe themselves. Just today, for example, a workshop explores investments in “nature-based solutions” (9:15am in the Congress Centre), Colombia’s president aspires to “[return] nature to cities” (panel at 3pm in the Congress Centre), and bankers discuss “nature action.”Why the shift in vocabulary? Is “nature” a gentler, less bureaucratic word compared to “net zero,” “the carbon economy,” or “climate change”? Or has the pandemic made us believe, as one of the final panels of the day suggests, that we’ve received “a wake-up call from nature”? That session, featuring the CEO of Moderna and the director-general of World Wildlife Fund International, will be moderated by Magdalena Skipper, the editor in chief of—you guessed it—Nature.👀 WHAT ELSE TO WATCH FOR TODAYJoe Manchin has a lot to answer for. The US senator joins a bipartisan panel at 12:30pm in Congress Hall to offer “the view from Capitol Hill.” How hard will moderator Zanny Minton Beddoes of The Economist go after the West Virginia Democrat for blocking US president Joe Biden’s attempts at a reasonable climate policy?The covid gap. The global vaccine alliance Gavi launched in Davos more than 20 years ago. Has its presence here ever been more important? At 2:15pm at the Congress Centre, Gavi CEO Seth Berkley joins Moderna’s CEO, the heads of Oxfam International and the Wellcome Trust, and the president of Botswana for a session titled “Equitable Responses to Ending the Pandemic.”Designing for disability. Another organization launched right here in Davos is The Valuable 500, which last year finally reached its goal of getting 500 CEOs to commit to basic principles of disability inclusion. Founder Caroline Casey will be one of the panelists at a 4:45pm session in the Congress Centre on driving inclusion through innovation, moderated by our own Katherine Bell.We built these cities. At 5:45pm in the Congress Centre, the mayors of Stockholm and Miami join the CEOs of JLL and SNC-Lavalin (yes, that SNC Lavalin) for a panel on the post-pandemic city.Missed the opening reception Sunday evening? WEF founder Klaus Schwab gives his official welcoming remarks at 10:45am today in Congress Hall, with Swiss president Ignazio Cassis also on hand to greet you.”