In the lead up to its annual conference in Davos, the World Economic Forum has just released its 2023 Global Risks Report.
The report summarises the results of the annual WEF survey of business leaders, politicians, consultants, academics etc. The survey group is basically the people who they expect to attend the Davos conference.
In the 2022 WEF Global Risks Report, environmental risks, both short term and long term, dominated. More than 84% of people surveyed said they were worried or concerned about the outlook for the world. Just 12% had a positive view, and less than 4% reported feeling optimistic.
“Most respondents … expect the next three years to be characterized by either consistent volatility and multiple surprises or fractured trajectories” a WEF representative said at the time.
So how have views changed in the last 12 months? Maybe the reduced optimism for the future is reflected in the reports more ominous front cover.
The world’s collective inability to deal with environmental risks continues to dominate the report, with the top 4 global risks ranked by severity being environmental. This is not a surprise given the lack of any real progress at any of the high-profile 2022 conferences aimed at dealing with the climate crisis and biodiversity loss. But why are the results of WEF Global Risks Report particularly interesting?
Firstly, because this survey group is filled with the business leaders and politicians who have been some of the main perpetrators and enablers of the unsustainable destruction of land and natural resources. But mainly this is interesting because these are the same global elites, who, naively, thought they had the capability, resources, political influence to turn this problem around when ‘they’ felt it was finally necessary. Their lack of collective optimism points to this group beginning to realise they are buggered, just like the rest of us. They are finally beginning to grasp that they don’t have the collective capability to change our trajectory because collapse is nothing like a crisis.
The report’s conclusion asks, “Is preparedness possible?” and the first paragraph alludes to the answer to this question and the reasons for the lack of any optimism, “As we enter a low-cooperation era, the actions that we take today will dictate our future risk landscape.”.
While I disagree that we are entering a low-cooperation era, instead believing we have been in it for some time already, I will be watching with interest the actions of the people who turn up at Davos next week and comparing the reality to the rhetoric of the 2023 WEF Global Risk Report.
The report acknowledges the growing divergence between advanced and developing countries. While it also acknowledges this divergence is leading to a multiplicity of environmental and geopolitical risks, including climate change and ecosystem collapse, further threatening global security, what, if anything, will change at Davos 2023?
There is certainly little evidence that this self-indulgent elite network is capable of re-building and strengthening global risk preparedness and cooperation.
Maybe the first insight into the Davos participants’ willingness and capability to do what is needed is to monitor the number of private jets that fly in for the conference. Private jet emissions quadrupled in 2022 as 1,040 planes flew in and out of airports serving the Davos meeting.
The next insight maybe the willingness, or not, to talk about taxation and the redistribution of wealth. When Dutch historian Rutger Bregman suggested wealthy people should pay more tax at the 2019 Davos Forum it didn’t go down well with the world leaders and heads of business in the room. As he said in interviews after the event, “The ‘T’ word is forbidden. You can talk about anything — about education, about feminism, about climate change — as long as you don’t talk about higher taxes on the rich”. During the conference Bregman said to the room “It feels like I’m at a firefighters conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water.”
If the lack of willingness by the WEF leadership and attendees to discuss taxing the wealthy and the more equitable distribution of wealth continues, then this Davos meeting will continue to be nothing more than its definition by author Anand Giridharadas, “a family reunion for the people who broke the world”.
Lynn Johnson is a physicist by education and has worked as an executive coach and a strategy consultant for over 20 years. In her work she pushes for systemic change, not piecemeal solutions, this includes campaigning for modernising the legal trade in endangered species, to help tackle the illegal wildlife trade.