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Environment will take centre stage at Davos: World Economic Forum boss

The forum is shifting its recent focus from how technology is transforming lives to the environment and responsible business practices that promote jobs, fight climate change and work for both social good and profit-making.

World Economic Forum boss Klaus Schwab says the environment will be a key focus at Davos in 2020.

World Economic Forum boss Klaus Schwab says the environment will be a key focus at Davos in 2020.Credit:AP

The focus on environment could make for an uncomfortable subject for Trump, whose administration has called for expanded use of carbon-spewing coal, stripped away environmental protections and played down concerns among scientists about man-made climate change.

Trump has also moved to take the US out of the landmark 2015 Paris accord that aims to fight climate change.

Schwab says Trump would be welcome because of his role on the world stage, while Thunberg’s presence would help keep the focus on the environment. Both will speak on the opening day.

“I think both voices are necessary,” Schwab said. “The environment will play a particularly important role during this meeting.”

On Sunday, a group of climate activists set off on a three-day, 40-kilometre hike from Landquart in eastern Switzerland to Davos to draw attention to global warming at the forum.

A group of climate change activists left Landquart in Switzerland on Sunday to walk to Davos.

A group of climate change activists left Landquart in Switzerland on Sunday to walk to Davos.Credit:Bloomberg

Some were dressed as flowers or koalas – a reference to the bushfires devastating Australia – and holding banners, including: “Let’s ignore the Donalds and listen to the Gretas”.

Authorities had approved the first stretch of the Alpine walk from Landquart to Klosters, but rejected the activists’ request to proceed to Davos by road. The organisers said they were determined to go on to Davos using smaller hiking paths they did not need permission to use.

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Schwab pointed to the forum’s 160 “lighthouse” projects on inclusion and equality; economic development; technology governance; regional development; corporate leadership and ecology, including a project to plant a trillion trees.

“So if Greta comes this year, she will see that we have made substantial progress,” he said, alluding to her debut at the forum last year.

Schwab claimed the forum had helped air concerns about environment since the 1970s, but said public awareness about climate issues had now exploded.

“Now we have recognised the urgency, because we know the window to act [on climate change] is closing,” he said, adding he hoped to inject “this sense of urgency into the meeting.”

He said many companies were increasingly seeing the benefits of “ESG” – environmental, social and governance – concerns in their business models.

“Companies recognise … doing good … it’s a precondition for some long-term survival,” he said.

The forum chief said nearly all European Union leaders would be on hand this year, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He said the EU had a chance to lay out its vision for the future and turn the corner after three years of haggling over Britain’s departure from the bloc.

He also brushed aside critics who have faulted the forum as an exclusive vacation for the world’s out-of-touch elites.

“If I am particularly proud of something during the last 50 years, it is of having created many years ago the community of young leaders,” Schwab said, citing 10,000 young “Global Shapers” in over 400 cities who he said are engaged in issues on the ground.

“We try – and I think quite successfully – to integrate the bottom-up, young generation very much.”

AP

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