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Davos Man No Longer Has Time for Climate Change

After taking something like center stage the past few years, climate slid down the agenda at the 2024 summit.

Davos, Switzerland.
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Whatever’s on the official agenda at Davos, a.k.a. the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, there’s always one item missing: Davos itself. As much as we love talking about what happens there, we love talking about what Davos means much, much more.

Unfortunately for anyone living on planet Earth, consensus from this year’s Davos meeting seems to be that any sense of climate urgency there once was has waned.

“They are not talking a lot about climate, about biodiversity, about this crisis at all, and that is not acceptable,” Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an activist from Chad, told David Gelles of The New York Times. Gelles got a similar message from Andres Gluski, chief executive of AES, a U.S.-based energy company that has committed to renewables in recent years. “I think there’s a little bit of sort of climate catastrophe fatigue,” Gluski said. “People are like, ‘Yeah, yeah, the world is going to end. But I’m still going to vacation on the Greek islands or the Bahamas.’”

Climate was not completely off the agenda: Tuesday morning’s session included a panel on climate and nature featuring some heavy hitters, including International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva and World Bank President Ajay Banga, and Fortune’s Peter Vanham reports that former Vice President, climate activist, and funny person Al Gore had the crowd at a dinner for the Time 100 riled up. (I particularly liked this turn of phrase from the speech. “We hear the word ‘polycrisis’ thrown around now,” Gore said. “Solving the climate crisis is a polysolution that will help us solve a wide range of crises, and we need inspiration.”)

Nevertheless, the climate crisis seems to have fallen down the global elite’s priority list — “and that’s a shame,” said Paul Polman, a former CEO of Unilever, speaking to Fortune’s Varnham. Taking the prevalence of “ESG,” or environmental, social, and governance concerns as a proxy for global finance’s interest in addressing climate, Davos observers at Semaforfound that the acronym appeared twice on the 2022 Davos program, once in 2023, and not at all this year.

It is true there were some other very large fishes to fry — the biggest, according to Palantir CEO Alex Karp, the hostage crisis in Gaza, Semafor reported. “In the world I live in — as important as climate is right now, this is the most important issue and everyone has to discuss it.” And while French President Emmanuel Macron took the stage on day three of the conference to call for European energy sovereignty, you could be forgiven for not knowing that; between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s cri de coeur for continued aid and recently elected Argentinian President Javier Milei’s spellbinding tirade against the evils of “collectivism” and “radical feminism,” there wasn’t much attention left to go around.

Overall, the climate vibes are not good. “2024 will be an unusually consequential year for climate action,” Jason Bordoff, director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, told Bloomberg. “By the end of the year, with another COP concluding in a petrostate and the results of many national elections, we’ll have a sense of whether climate cooperation is breaking down or not.”

One bright spot: There is currently above average snowpack in Davos, which has led to some picturesque scenes and warm-looking outfits. As we know, of course, that does not mean all is well climate-wise. “If you go 12 kilometers lower down, you have below-average [snow coverage],” Christoph Marty, climate scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, told the Financial Times. “It shows how vulnerable the snowpack is to temperature.”

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Jillian Goodman

Jillian is Heatmap's deputy editor. Before that, she was opinion editor at The Information and deputy editor at Bloomberg Green. Read More

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