Beyond Davos’ fragmented world.
Launched in the early 1970s as a European forum for business leaders, Davos was both a place to share problems (such as regulation, socialism or the process of European integration) and new challenges, and a place for business negotiations with deals made in bars, restaurants and seminar rooms. As early as 1979, an influential index of competitiveness of countries was created, taking into account, among other criteria, the compatibility of legislation with business. Since then, the business world has been trying to present itself in a new light, also dealing with environmental or humanitarian issues.
Judge by yourself considering the harsh economic realities acknowledged during the forum, while outlining potential 2023 macroeconomic scenarios ranging from a soft landing to an extended downturn. World elites’ priority topics that dominated this year’s conversations were (1) :
- Global disruption is not slowing down. Companies must prioritize building resilience today to prepare for tomorrow.
- No region is an island. The future of globalization needs diversification rather than decoupling.
- To achieve a net-zero future, leaders must balance the energy transition and energy resilience, while maintaining focus on the immediate needs of energy reliance and affordability. For example, decarbonizing the electric sector for reducing emissions while maintaining a resilient energy supply requires securing and developing suitable land for generating solar or onshore wind power, and a circular value chain, in which materials are reused, repaired, or recycled.
- Global companies are finding that promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is helping them tap underserved markets, giving them a competitive edge.
- The budding space economy has vast potential to change the world. Many sectors can capture the innovation of space coupled to investing resources along the data center value chain (such as immersion cooling solutions), applied AI, cloud and edge computing, and bioengineering.
At the same time, in a tribune signed by two hundred self-proclaimed "Patriotic millionaires", they are asking to be taxed more, arguing the huge disparities of wealth in the world. And a John Kerry urging billionaires to turn their donations to the fight against global warming (which would currently represent only 2% of donations).
At the extent of having Klaus Schwab, the founder of Davos, thinking in terms of resetting capitalism (The Great Reset, 2020), assorted to a Manifesto and to the Chairpersons guide to valuing nature (2) ), these views need a prompt read and confrontation with real life.
The civil society
A different sort of radicality can be seen in the new Oxfam report (3) on the fight against global poverty : since 2020, the richest 1% of the world’s people would have captured 63% of the wealth produced. Its objective ? To halve the number of billionaires in the world within a decade, to ban them in the long term. Also, three hundred activists gathered in Davos formulated two main demands : a climate tax for the ultra-rich, and the cancellation of the debt of poor countries in the South.
The “Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework” (4) on Private accountability of ecosystem integrity in every territory, ruled by public authorities. The agenda agreed in December 2022 to implement measures designed to ensure “the integrity, connectivity and resilience of all ecosystems”. Thus, ecosystems in all territories are “maintained, enhanced, or restored” with all areas under participatory integrated biodiversity inclusive spatial planning and/or effective management addressing land and sea use change, to bring the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance, including ecosystems of high ecological integrity, close to zero by 2030, while respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities”.
Furthermore, the business responsibility is targetted - “Take legal, administrative or policy measures to encourage and enable business, and in particular to ensure that large and transnational companies and financial institutions, to regularly monitor, assess, and transparently disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity, including with requirements for all large as well as transnational companies and financial institutions along their operations, supply and value chains and portfolios."
I hope the Network can now work hand in hand with Klaus Schwab, because they need to transcend the November 2022 G20 agenda, with the classical themes by now : food and health for all, the protection of the environment and biodiversity. And the means, always the same, to achieve the objectives : the international market, finance and investment, and technology.
To achieve its sustainable development goals and promote the coordinated development of its resources, environment, and social economy, China deploys since the first decade of the century the concept and practice of an “ecological civilization”, a narrative based on the unity / harmony of man and nature (5). This has been enshrined in the Chinese constitution in 2018 and the ecological civilization model and efforts run in parallel with the geopolitical Belt and Road Initiative program. A new world order in sight ?
This is where the financial world comes in. For the finance industry, Davos discussions on job cuts and cost savings were tight at Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, or Morgan Stanley. In the backyard, a UN COP26 -backed initiative (6), an “industry-led and UN-convened” alliance of private banking and financial institutions announced plans to overhaul the role of global and regional financial institutions, including the World Bank and IMF, as part of a broader “green” plan to transform the global financial system and governance in order to promote sustainability.
- uniting the world’s banks and financial institutions behind the global transition to net zero, a predatory initiative backed by the United Nations ;
- creating of Natural Asset Corporations (NACs ; the Rockefeller Foundation), a new asset class that would put the natural world, as well as the ecological processes that underpin all life, up for sale under the guise of “protecting” them (i.e., financialize the natural world.) ;
- developing of country platforms to connect the now enormous private capital committed to net zero with country projects, scaling blended finance through MDBs [multilateral development banks] and developing high integrity, credible global carbon markets by investing in emerging and developing countries (estimated $ 130 trillion).
Such “stakeholder capitalism” mechanism models, despite being presented as offering a “more responsible” form of capitalism, allow corporations and private entities to participate in forming the regulations that govern their own markets and giving them a greatly increased role in political decision making by placing them on an equal footing with national governments.
Taken together, the centralized capitalism is deploying its forces : The confrontation between China’s state capitalism and western private capitalism (GAFAM) is gaining strength.
With all this in mind, think twice before making your citizen decisions, because according to Limits to growth report (7), land use change generated state shits in the biosphere (8), and our own work (9), the time boundary is there, anytime between 2025 and 2030. For example, when questioning the feasibility, or even the advisability, of a net-zero transition by 2050.
What can science do ? Keep measuring what we have, we have lost, and may be needed next to have a decent human condition for the many. Our upcoming Manifesto is aiming at challenging and clarifying the bazar landscape in the weeks to come.
Notes and references
1. Davos 2023. https://www.fnlondon.com/articles/davos-debrief-what-the-world-economic-forum-taught-us-about-esg-remote-working-and-more-20230119
Five takeaways from the World Economic Forum’s 2023 meeting https://www.mckinsey.com/Featured-Insights/Themes/5-takeaways-from-the-World-Economic-Forums-2023-meeting ?
2. Schwab K. Davos Manifesto 2020.
At Davos 1998, Secretary General Kofi Annan stated on the UN shift policy as follows :
“The United Nations has been transformed since we last met here in Davos. The Organization has undergone a complete overhaul that I have described as a ‘quiet revolution’ . . . A fundamental shift has occurred. The United Nations once dealt only with governments. By now we know that peace and prosperity cannot be achieved without partnerships involving governments, international organizations, the business community and civil society. . . . The business of the United Nations involves the businesses of the world”.
To be compared to the Davos Manifesto, 2020.
4. the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) ; https://www.cbd.int/doc/c/e6d3/cd1d/daf663719a03902a9b116c34/cop-15-l-25-en.pdf
5. Goron C (2018) Ecological Civilisation and the Political Limits of a Chinese Concept of Sustainability, China Perspectives, 2018-4 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/chinaperspectives.8463
6. https://mronline.org/2021/11/12/un-backed-banker-alliance-announces-green-plan-to-transform-the-global-financial-system/ ; include BlackRock, Citi, Bank of America, Banco Santander, and HSBC, as well as the London Stock Exchange Group and the Investment Committee of the David Rockefeller Fund.
7. Meadows D et al (2005) A synopsis : The Limits to Growth : The 30- YearUpdate. London : Earthscan Editions.
8. Barnosky A et al (2012) Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere. Nature 486 (7401), 52–58.
9. Negrutiu I (2022) A Compass for Resource Justice and Planetary Health : Food Systems and Global Pollution. Resources, Conservation & Recycling, 181, 106229. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2022.106229
26 janvier 2023