Davos 2019: what to watch for at the World Economic Forum

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Conference begins amid political and economic storms as some world leaders choose to stay away

A sniper stands guard over the Swiss ski resort of Davos

The usual mix of political bigwigs and business heavyweights have descended on the tiny Swiss ski resort of Davos for the start of the World Economic Forum.

Yet amid a perfect storm of trade wars, government shutdowns, Brexit chaos, volatile markets and fears of a new global recession, this year’s theme of Globalism 4.0 seems oddly out of touch with the wave of populism and economic nationalism sweeping the world.

“The uncertainties are vast,” says Ilaria Maselli for CNN Business.

In a new survey of more than 800 global CEOs by The Conference Board, corporate leaders ranked the risk of a recession as their number one external concern for 2019.

“Global political instability and trade disruptions came in as runner-ups. They also have little faith in the traditional levers of power — policy and political institutions — containing the external turbulence,” says Madelli.

A separate survey from audit giant PwC has further added to the gloom in Davos. It shows the share of chief executives who think the global economy will slow over the next year has jumped to nearly 30% from 5% in 2018.

Back in Davos for #WEF2019. Like last year, it’s cold. However, compared to last year, the mood is a lot more pessimistic. Here is what’s on the minds of global business leaders: https://t.co/xlboZ0pJXH

— Ivana Kottasov� (@IvanaKottasova) January 21, 2019

The World Economic Forum is well-known for its high-powered guest list and this year’s attendees include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro, Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, Bill Gates and world wide web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

But there are some high-profile absences.

Amid the backdrop of a slowing Chinese economy, President Xi Jinping has decided against attending. It means neither leader of the world’s two largest economies will be present after Donald Trump cancelled plans for a US delegation to attend this year due to the ongoing government shutdown.

They join French President Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May, both of whom are facing domestic turmoil, in shunning the event.

Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih has also dropped out at the last minute, joining the long list of notable no shows.

Just about to start the #WEF19 in Davos. This year the US, U.K. and French governments have dropped out. As a result, the ratio of dictatorships to democracies in Davos is now seriously skewed towards the bad guys pic.twitter.com/08FqCSGLS5

— Bill Browder (@Billbrowder) January 22, 2019

For those who do attend, a major theme this week will be environmental challenges.

In contrast to most business surveys, the World Economic Forum’s global risk report has identified the failure to mitigate climate change as top of the list of dangers facing the world economy.

Addressing the opening day of the summit, Sir David Attenborough told attendees that the worlds of business and politics should “get on with the practical solutions” needed to prevent environmental damage.

But as The Guardian points out, that hasn’t stopped world leaders from choosing private jets as their means of transportation.

Experts say up to 1,500 private planes will fly to and from the Swiss ski resort over the course of the summit – a record for the week and hardly in keeping with its green agenda.

 

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