Swedish youth climate activist Greta Thunberg delivers a speech during the closing day of the World Economic Forum annual meeting, on January 25, 2019 in Davos, Switzerland. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

The Davos Forum and the Risk of Underestimating Climate Change

Al-Etihad, UAE, January 24

Prior to the World Economic Forum, all eyes were set on the issue of climate change. On the first day in Davos, the forum’s organizers unveiled an ambitious list that included a wide range of banks, companies and civic leaders who committed to making this year’s forum a “turning point” in tackling global climate change. In the hour before [US] President Donald Trump’s speech, notable participants in the forum agreed to step up to their moral responsibility and protect future generations. Simonetta Sommaruga, president of the Swiss Confederation, took the stage and warned of a “burning world.” She told the crowd, which included figures such as former [US] vice president Al Gore and European Commission Chairperson Ursula von der Leyen, that “we need politicians taking action in their communities and around the world to ensure an environmental balance and curb global warming.” In Tuesday’s first session, Greta Thunberg, the noted Swedish teenager-turned-activist, once again rebuked political leaders and media elites and accused them of not fully explaining the scale of the disaster we are facing. She lamented that the catastrophe “cannot be solved unless we treat it as a real crisis.” [But] at the conference, Trump used his speech to celebrate the recovery of the American economy under his presidency. He used his 30-minute time window to deliver what seemed like an electoral address. But he did not mention climate. The contempt inherent in Trump’s message was unambiguous: He described climate activists as “pessimistic prophets” and “foolish readers of the past.” The man who never stops inciting against immigrants on the basis of fear and suspicion took to the Davos stage and asserted that “fear and suspicion are insufficient” in modeling climate change. Sadly, many in Davos didn’t see anything wrong with Trump. In an interview with The Washington Post, a European CEO described Trump’s speech as “highly enjoyable.” Tony Fratto, managing partner at Hamilton Place Strategies and deputy press secretary to former [US] president George W. Bush, claimed that “many top executives are very happy with what Trump is doing and share a similar agenda. … Trump has more supporters here than I think people think.” It certainly seems as if Trump succeeded in diverting the forum’s attention away from climate change. The idea of multilateralism and the cross-border cooperation promoted by World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab was surely nowhere to be found. One conference attendee claimed that Trump’s speech was completely out of context. Elsewhere, representatives of companies, governments and civic groups were engaged in urgent discussions on the climate crisis. Trump seems to live in the previous decade, while everyone looks to the next decade. Unfortunately, Trump is not alone. – Ishan Tharoor (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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