My annual pilgrimage to the Magic Mountain is always a transcendent experience of departure and arrival...this year more than most, not only because of the extraordinary circumstances but because my point of departure was Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s Global Competitiveness Forum precedes Davos each year, with chartered flights for dignitaries in motion from one to the other. The Kingdom’s headline topic for this year was, appropriately, ‘Responsible Competitiveness’. Thankfully, the back-slapping moments of last year’s Davos were completely absent, with still-in-post chief executives and political leaders providing some humbling thoughts on the disaster.
Simon Zadek is Chief Executive of AccountAbility
Also by Simon Zadek in openDemocracy:
" From the magic mountain: the World Economic Forum "
(29 January 2004)
" openDavos: Simon Zadek's blog "
" Reinventing accountability for the 21st century "
(12 September 2005)
" China's route to business responsibility " (30 November 2005)
"Accountability: the other climate change" (31 October 2006)
"The World Economic Forum: changing the world from within" (22 January 2007)
"After the binge" (6 January 2009)
The out-of-time financial sector, with Mr Thain as its unintended posterchild, rightly provided a natural ‘fall guy’ for the event, with misaligned incentives combined with rampant greed providing the background narrative for all that is wrong in the world. Fair enough, certainly, but a strange sight to see some of the world’s most photogenic leaders offloading any sense of their own culpability. Nissan’s hugely successful chief executive, Mr Ghosh, forwent any mention of the failure of Nissan to invest ahead of the pain in low-carbon transport options. Similarly for Mr Enders, Airbus’s chief executive, who urged us to pray for renewable alternatives to jet fuel as if he and his company were out of the loop of aircraft design and production. As to the future, their prognosis is a deep recession with a ‘return to normality’ within five years...
But back to the Magic Mountain...this year’s topical theme is ‘Shaping the Post Crisis World’, but the mood forces the immediate into focus. Wen Jaibao has just finished his plenary contribution... impressive, with a clear message that its going to be okay, despite the serious economic numbers emerging from China...8% is his magic number, which is the annual rate of growth China needs to achieve to avoid serious social problems...rumour has it that China’s most recent quarter performance is well below that number...Mr Putin is next up, Time Magazine man of the year in 2007, and politician of choice in a side meeting at WEF in Tianjin late last year (see my oD article on this)...only problem is that although it is an open plenary, some folks seem to have little yellow tickets and no one else can get down the stairs...Mr Putin is inclined also to tell us its all going to be ok as long as there is a bit of give and take, by which I think he means he could give us energy security in return for allowing Russian companies to migrate downstream into European retail energy markets, that Russia is left to its own local and regional wandering inclinations, and that Russia be applauded for its autonomy and strength...
Was invited to a productive session on climate change this afternoon, with a lot of brain power in the room and knowledge of the intricacies of this tricky topic. Jeremy Oppenheim from McKinsey set out the stark carbon and economic numbers, reminding those who needed it that every year’s delay added another 3-5 parts per million of carbon dioxide, edging us towards the magic number of 450, beyond which Lovelock’s ‘revenge of gaia’ takes hold to our cost. As a long time fan of Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, he got my session prize in advancing proposals for a sliding levy on the price of oil as a way of raising the money to finance developing country moves towards low carbon trajectories. By one reckoning, a $10 a barrel levy (remember that in the last 12 months, prices have gone from $60 to $147 and now down to $30, so $10 is pretty trivial) would generate $180 billion a year, coincidentally what Project Catalyst, a climate initiative that AccountAbility is involved in, says is what is needed to cover the bill...
23.00, sipping piping hot tomato soup in the restaurant of Hotel Ochsen, a cute hotel that has become the hang-out joint for many of the 50 or so civil society and labour invitees...folks like Ken Roth from Human Rights Watch and Ricardo Young from Instituto Ethos make up a sort of undefined ‘international brigade’ at Davos, available to inform, guide and ultimately challenge the conventional wisdoms that always threaten to disable elites that become overly self-contained...Steward Wallis, the New Economics Foundation’s chief executive, sits twisting someone’s ear on the next table...outside of the window, wayward billionaires, ministers of state and spiritual leaders walk unsteadily along the slippery white pavements, avoiding the high-octane Audis cruising the village moving another level of participant from place to place on demand.
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