Greta Thunberg in Davos: `This Is Just the Very Beginning'
They are the two highest profile attendees at this year’s annual World Economic Forum, but their respective recipes for global salvation couldn’t be further apart.
President Donald Trump and climate activist Greta Thunberg talked past each other in duelling speeches at Davos on Tuesday that underscored the difficulty in achieving any kind of consensus on the urgency of the environmental challenges facing the planet.
Trump, addressing the annual meeting of the business and political elite hours before his impeachment trial kicked off in Washington, failed to mention the WEF’s key topic this year of climate change at all, beyond a dismissive reference to “alarmists” determined to “control every aspect of our lives.”
“We must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse,” he told an audience that included Thunberg, adding that his stewardship of the booming U.S. economy, spurred on by soaring oil and gas production, meant that “this is a time for optimism.”
Thunberg, in typically uncomprising comments made at either end of Trump’s appearance, accused the elite Davos crowd of “empty words and promises” that amounted to doing nothing about climate change.
Even if the anticipated Trump versus Greta rematch (after she scowled at him at the United Nations in New York) may not have quite materialized -- neither mentioned the other by name, nor did they meet -- their clear and unbridgeable differences reflect equally entrenched sides of the climate debate.
Only a handful of executives from the oil, gas and coal industries that are chiefly responsible for warming the planet were seen attending the panel at which Thunberg spoke, for example. Trump was greeted on arrival by giant letters etched in the Davos snow spelling out: “ACT ON CLIMATE.”
Davos delegates may not like Trump but “they like his policies,” Ian Bremmer, president of consulting firm Eurasia Group, told Bloomberg TV. “You can have Greta here, you can have a bunch of people talking about climate and sustainability, but the reality is that Trump doesn’t drive people crazy at Davos the way he does in the United States.”
Hundreds of climate activists arrived on foot on Tuesday following a three-day march across the Swiss Alps. Protesters will gather at the ski resort and stage a demonstration calling for the end of the World Economic Forum. Police said traffic was halted temporarily as a march of 100 activists or more made its way to the Swiss town.
Still, the concerns among the business and political elite are real. Oil and gas executives are scheduled to meet for a private dinner tonight in Davos, in which climate change is expected to be a top topic of behind-the-doors discussion, according to an executive who planned to attend the dinner and asked not to be named as it’s a private event.
This year for the first time on record, environmental risks occupy the WEF’s top five long-term concerns, while corporate executives say they’re increasingly concerned about environmental issues. That reality also places governments are the forefront of the response.
BlackRock Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink said the “biggest risk” on the path to a carbon-neutral economy is being too dependent on governments to take action, since they’re not equipped to handle the task on their own.
“Climate change is now becoming an investment risk,” Fink said in an interview with Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait. The transition to a carbon-free economy will take over 50 years, and “the key thing that we need to do is find ways to mitigate those risks while we are dependent on carbon,” he said.
Many at Davos are preparing for another four years of Trump, expecting him to win a second term in November’s presidential election, according to Eurasia’s Bremmer. That would likely mean a continued U.S. focus on coal and other fossil fuels from a president who withdrew from the Paris climate accord.
For Trump, the U.S. is an example to the world. “The American dream is back, bigger, better and stronger than before,” he said.
For Thunberg, addressing a panel on “averting a climate apocalypse,” the status quo is not an option. “Our house is still on fire,” she said.
--With assistance from Chris Reiter.