Davos is not the easiest place to get to. It says much for the pull of the World Economic Forum that, every January for the past 45 years, the masters of the universe find their way to this remote, unexceptional town in the eastern Alps to meet, talk, pronounce, party, gossip, and sometimes even do business.
Anecdotally, attendance is down this year – the WEF is notoriously shy about those who have paid many thousands of dollars to attend – and certainly the turmoil in the world’s financial markets has kept some big hitters away. I asked a friend who runs a multinational company, and is a regular attendee, whether he was coming. “Not this year,” he said, “It’s much better I’m at my desk working, rather than sitting in a room talking about working.” He is not alone in his view. Nevertheless, there’s still enough money, power and influence here to justify the ring of steel that encircles us.
This has not been a good winter thus far for Davos. According to my native guide, there was no snow here at Christmas, which was a disaster for the tourist industry. We swapped stories about the manifest effects of global warming: I told him that, in the middle of January, I’ve already got daffodils in my garden, and that warm winters are the new normal for us. So much so, I said, that some of the big French wine houses are buying land in Kent and Sussex as a hedge, believing we may have a more benevolent climate for viniculture in the future.
Several hours later, I found myself in a conference room with the seer of climate change, Al Gore. Before he took the podium, I overheard him talking about Donald Trump. “He’s like the monster in a science fiction movie,” he said. “Every time he’s hit with increasingly heavy-duty weapons, he just gets stronger.”
Mr Gore was on a panel of notables discussing the impact of climate change on financial markets. Or, rather, vice versa. As Jim Yong Kim, the President of the World Bank, said: “Nothing will have as big an impact on climate change than market forces.” Indeed, money talks, and nowhere more so than in Davos. I can’t say I followed all of the arguments, but Al Gore’s assertion that, by ignoring the potential financial effects of climate change, the world is adopting the posture it did ahead of the sub-prime crisis of 2008, was stark and powerful. “It now seems foolish in the extreme that we expected a stripper in Las Vegas to pay five mortgages,” he said, “and, unless we are able to change established patterns of behaviour, we will be in big trouble.”
The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who has taken a leading position on climate change, spoke too – and what a magnificently impressive communicator he is. “It is the role of a central banker to tell you what you already know,” he said with nonchalant self-effacement, and proceeded to give a brilliantly crafted exposition of the relationship between big business and climate issues, and how and why it must change. I noticed he was the only man at the event not wearing a tie. If “Davos Man” is a recognised neologism for a man at ease with his own supremacy, Mr Carney most certainly is it.
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