Climate change is in the spotlight as leaders meet in Davos: What can we expect?

The climate crisis is in the spotlight as the World Economic Forum (WEF) holds its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland this week.

Following COP28 - and with the climate crisis topping the forum’s list of the biggest risks over the next decade - governments and business leaders are facing some monumental challenges. Just last week, the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service revealed that 2023 had been the hottest year on record with major implications for keeping global warming below 1.5C.

As deep international divisions grow in an increasingly uncertain world, cooperation on global threats such as climate change isn’t likely to get easier. So what can we expect from Davos on climate change?

Climate change is one of the biggest risks for humanity

Climate change is among the biggest risks the world faces over the next decade, according to the WEF’s Global Risks report published last week ahead of Davos.

Though misinformation and disinformation were deemed the biggest immediate risks, half of the most severe threats over the next 10 years are environmental. That includes extreme weather events, critical changes to Earth’s systems, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse and a shortage of natural resources.

Two-thirds of the 1,400 global experts who were surveyed were worried about extreme weather events in 2024.

The report also argues that cooperation on pressing global issues like climate change is in short supply. It calls on leaders to rethink action to address these risks and foster greater research into areas that could help like climate modelling or technologies for the green transition.

As the meeting opened, founder and executive chairman of the WEF Klaus Schwab called on delegates to “advance dialogue, strengthen cooperation and deepen partnerships on critical global challenges” in a “fractured world” with “growing societal divides”.

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum is taking place in Davos from 15 to 19 January.
The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum is taking place in Davos from 15 to 19 January. - AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

Fossil fuels and the green transition

After historic agreements including tripling renewable energy and transitioning away from fossil fuels at COP28 in December, now comes the task of making them happen.

The WEF thinks that addressing and tackling climate change is one of the ways leaders can demonstrate responsible leadership and cooperation.

A strategy to protect nature and combat climate change as well as more concrete plans to reach carbon neutrality may be one way that governments in particular could, in the spirit of this year’s theme, ‘Rebuilding Trust’.

Leaders will gather to discuss how to develop this long-term plan to achieve a carbon-neutral and nature-positive world by 2050 while providing affordable, secure and inclusive access to energy, food and water, according to the WEF.

Green tech is also likely to be one of the top issues up for debate in Davos - particularly for the energy transition which is one of the six main themes delegates will focus on. It comes as the International Energy Agency revealed a rapid surge in renewable energy rollout last week and global trust in environmental innovation on the up.

How to finance this transition in a just way - through both private and public sources - is also likely to be a hot topic in an echo of another of the biggest debates seen at COP28.

Why are climate activists not convinced?

Davos has long been criticised as symbolic of the problems with the ‘global elite’. Historically, activists have had little faith that politicians and the super-rich can effectively tackle vital issues like the climate crisis at meetings like this.

They believe the WEF elite are dangerously complacent about the realities of the climate crisis. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg said last year that it was “absurd” that the world was still listening to “the people who are mostly fueling the destruction of the planet” at Davos rather than the people on the front lines of the climate emergency.

This year, there have already been protests ahead of the annual meeting. Climate activists were among those who blocked the road to the WEF venue on Sunday, causing an 18-kilometre traffic jam. Hundreds came together in Davos under the banner  “Smash WEF - take back control!”.

“While war, fascism, injustice and the climate crisis threaten humanity, the richest and most powerful are patting each other on the back behind closed doors,” Nicola Siegrist, President of JUSO Switzerland - the youth section of Switzerland’s Social Democratic Party - told the demonstration on Sunday.

One of the rally’s main demands was a global tax on thebiggest assetsto finance socially just climate protection.