Climate change hot topic at ski resort meet

Asia features prominently on the agenda of the five-day WEF, which begins today in Davos, Switzerland. Several sessions will focus on China's economic and political rise, as well as the growing tensions with neighbouring Japan.
Asia features prominently on the agenda of the five-day WEF, which begins today in Davos, Switzerland. Several sessions will focus on China's economic and political rise, as well as the growing tensions with neighbouring Japan.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Pressing issues at WEF include EU finances, US taper and rich-poor gap

POLITICAL and business leaders hoping to fit in a few hours of skiing in between sorting out the world's problems at their annual meeting in Davos might be in for a bit of a surprise.

Warm, springlike weather has gripped much of Europe in recent weeks, prompting some travel agencies to suggest that travellers head to North America instead. The Swiss alpine resort did see some snowfall over the weekend, but it might be a case of too little, too late.

The unusually balmy weather for this time of the year is part of a wider pattern of freaky weather being felt around the globe, from the Arctic polar vortex, which sent a bone-tingling chill down the north-eastern parts of the United States, to searing heat in southern Australia, which saw tennis champs reaching for ice packs.

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Little wonder then that apart from the usual discussions on the global economic, political and security outlook for the year, several sessions at the forum, which kicks off today, will focus on the impact of climate change and a warmer planet on societies around the world.

Well-known personalities in the climate debate such as former United States vice-president Al Gore and former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern are among those who will take up the subject. A recently leaked draft of a United Nations report noting that long delays in taking steps to tackle global warming will rachet up the cost of environmental damage is expected to add impetus to these discussions.

Award-winning actor Matt Damon, a co-founder of Water.org, a non-government body seeking to raise awareness about the need to address a growing shortage of clean water in the developing world, will also add some star power to the sessions.

But many minds at the week-long forum will be on more immediate concerns.

With fears over a Europe-led financial meltdown or the US Federal Reserve's tapering of economic stimulus measures having eased, some commentators will be grappling with the issue of whether growth is more likely to come from the developed or the developing world this year, while others will ponder the question, "Are financial markets safer now?"

The highlight of the week looks set to be a session on the global economic outlook for the year. This will feature the world's leading economic figures, including Ms Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble, European Central Bank president Mario Draghi and Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda.

Asia features prominently on the agenda, with China looming large on many minds. Several sessions will focus on China's economic and political rise, as well as the growing tensions with neighbouring Japan. One of these is grandly titled "China takes centre stage".

The theme for this year's event is "The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business", with sessions to ponder the future of work, the impact of economic restructuring and technological change.

But as in previous years, it is the private and informal discussions on the sidelines that are often as important as the formal conference agenda.

One issue which appears to be shaping up as a major theme is the widening gap between the rich and the poor. This debate has been heard all around Europe, featured prominently in the recent New York mayoral race and is a major concern here in Asia and Singapore. Several government leaders have pushed for a "more inclusive society" and Mr S. Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, who will be in Davos, is likely to follow these discussions with interest.

Flagging this as a topic, the IMF's Ms Lagarde told the Financial Times: "Business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum should remember that in far too many countries, the benefits of growth are being enjoyed by far too few people. This is not a recipe for stability and sustainability."

warren@sph.com.sg