20 January 2020
Global political and business leaders will shortly be converging on the Swiss ski resort of Davos for this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) jamboree that starts this coming Tuesday. President Trump, who skipped the event last year, is due to give one of the opening speeches that conveniently coincides with the start of his impeachment hearing in Washington DC.
In 2018, the US president used Davos to strike a combative note on international trade — an early sign of the tensions that were to come. But, since he signed the first phase of his renegotiated deal with China last week, Mr Trump is expected to take a softer tone this year.
There’s one group of leaders, however, who will be conspicuously absent: the British Prime Minister and his Cabinet (save Chancellor Sajid Javid, who has special dispensation to attend). After last month’s election win, Boris Johnson imposed a Davos ban to avoid alienating swathes of Northern voters who swung behind the Conservatives for the first time.
The PM’s decision may be understandable immediately prior to a General Election, but immediately after one in which he secured a comfortable majority of 80 seats, and does not have to face the electorate for another four and a half years, is more perplexing. That’s especially so given that just ten days after the WEF begins, the UK will have left the European Union and be looking to flex its own international muscle. Davos, many might have thought, would provide an ideal platform to do just that.
But his decision seems even odder still given the theme of this year’s gathering: “Stakeholders for a cohesive and sustainable world.” In non-corporate speak, this means Davos is going green (with the exception of President Trump, no doubt). It’s hardly a surprise given that environmental threats occupied all the top five slots in the WEF’s own Annual Report on the greatest risks facing the world in 2020.
Britain has a good story to tell on action to tackle climate change and is looking to position itself as an international leader on an issue it can hope to exercise soft power post-Brexit. That’s one of the reasons why the Government was so keen to host this year’s UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow this November. COP26 will be the largest international conference ever held on British soil, and the UK wants to demonstrate world leadership there to ratchet up global ambition on climate action, just as the French did so successfully five years ago at COP21 by getting the world (now minus the US) to sign up to the Paris Agreement.
In other years, Davos would have been in the grid as the springboard for the PM to launch his plans to go one better than the French. But not this year. Instead, Prince Charles will be (literally) flying the flag for Britain, as he launches his Sustainable Markets Council on Wednesday, a programme aiming at finding ways to “rapidly decarbonise the global economy.”
But whilst Greta Thurnberg is trekking to this year’s Davos across the Alps, Prince Charles is flying into the upmarket town on a private jet, to the ire of green campaigners, before immediately shooting off on a two-day visit to the Middle East, without even stopping by Klosters, his favourite ski resort that neighbours Davos. Perhaps the Prime Minister is wise, after all, to steer clear of the trappings of the international elite.
Pete Bowyer is a Partner at DRD Partnership in London, UK.
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