With a plea to world leaders to rebuild trust among nations, nearly 3,000 government, business and civil leaders from more than 125 countries crammed into the tiny Swiss ski resort of Davos for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting. 

World Economic Forum Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab called on leaders to rebuild trust “in our future, trust in our capacity to overcome challenges, and most importantly, trust in each other.”.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged the need for nations to “deepen global cooperation more than ever before”.

“The world is not at a single inflection point; it is at multi-inflection points,” she warned.

World Bank President Ajay S. Banga emphasised the interconnectedness of crises.

“We cannot think about eradicating poverty without caring about climate. We cannot think about eradicating poverty without thinking about healthcare. We cannot think about eradicating poverty without thinking about food insecurity and fragility.”

Conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East

More than 80 national security advisers from governments and international organisations met in Davos to advance a blueprint for peace in Ukraine, while the conflict in the Middle East was the focus of multiple sessions.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced plans for a potential global summit to push for peace and called for renewed investment in the country. “Strengthen our economy, and we’ll strengthen your security,” he said.

On the war in Gaza, Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shyaa Al Sudani, warned that unless the international community acted now to end the conflict, there was a risk of a stalemate and a possible expansion of hostilities in the region, while Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani called for protecting shipping security in the Red Sea.

Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, summed up the challenge facing the international community.

“I can’t think of a time when there’s been both a greater multiplicity and greater complexity of the challenges that we’re dealing with,” he said.

Initiatives for global cooperation

The Forum’s new Global Cooperation Barometer showed that global cooperation has been resilient for much of the past decade, particularly in the areas of trade and capital, innovation and technology, and climate and natural capital, but has been dragged down by a sharp decline in cooperation on peace and security. A new white paper offered diverse ideas on what global cooperation can look like in a fragmenting world.

The Humanitarian and Resilience Investing initiative announced over 50 commitments that will boost impact investment and could unlock over $15 billion, with new collaborations driving purpose-driven investment in frontier markets.

Members of the Davos Baukultur Alliance pledged to support the Government of Ukraine by providing technical assistance and resources to the rebuilding process, including the construction of sustainable and high-quality homes for orphans from the conflict.

Challenges for economic policy

Tharman Shanmugaratnam, President of Singapore, highlighted climate, ageing populations and the challenges of AI as the most urgent challenges for economic policy.

“The big issues are how do we address the climate transition? How do we address the needs of ageing societies and broken social security systems? And how do we address the challenges of the AI era and ensure that populations can cope with it and benefit from it?” Shanmugaratnam said.

The Global Risks Report 2024 warned of the risks that could pose future economic shocks while the latest Chief Economists Outlook revealed a global economy fraught with uncertainty as well as potential bright spots; two-thirds of economists surveyed said industrial policies may be successful in reviving growth, while generative AI was seen to increase productivity and innovation.

The Future of Growth Initiative is a two-year campaign to help policy-makers and economists exchange new ideas and best practices on achieving this balance, supported by the Future of Growth Report 2024 that presents a multidimensional framework to balance GDP with innovation, resilience, sustainability and inclusion.

The TradeTech Global initiative outlined a vision for collaborative use of technology for global commerce to unlock trillions in trade, ahead of a major Trade Tech Forum alongside the WTO global ministerial in February 2024.

The Forum launched new trade-facilitating initiatives, including a project aimed at streamlining regional trade in East Africa and a project to measure trade efficiency in El Salvador, while the Digital FDI Initiative announced new country projects in Oman and Cyprus.

Climate, nature and energy: ‘if only countries lived up to promises’

Building on momentum from the recent COP28 meeting, participants focused their discussions on driving energy efficiencies and addressing energy demand, and protecting and restoring nature.

“We know exactly what we ought to be doing to slow down and eventually reverse climate change and loss of biodiversity,” said Jane Goodall, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and United Nations Messenger of Peace. “If only various countries lived up to promises they made about reducing emissions.”

“If you’re not ready to acknowledge science and to recognise the reality of what is happening around the planet with greater intensity – storms, many more floods, torrential rainfall – the damage that is being done by the climate crisis is now costing us already in the billions,” said John Kerry, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. “It’s going to cost much more if we don’t move now.”

The First Movers Coalition for Industry has grown to almost 100 companies, providing the world’s largest demand signal for breakthrough climate technologies in high emission industry sectors, such as steel and cement.

1t.org, the World Economic Forum’s trillion trees platform, announced over 100 companies pledging to conserve, restore and grow 12 billion trees.

The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) welcomed Colombia, the Philippines and Zambia, bringing the network of national action partnerships to 15.

Pros and cons of artificial intelligence

Discussions on emerging technology addressed balancing potential benefits with concerns about security, privacy, safety, accountability, and inclusive and ethical use.

“As a digital technology industry, the biggest lesson learned perhaps for us is that we have to take the unintended consequences of any new technology along with all the benefits,” said Satya Nadella, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft.

Sam Altman Chief Executive Officer of OpenAI, said of AI: “Even with its very limited current capability and its very deep flaws, people are finding a way to use it for great productivity gains or other gains and understand the limitations.”

Paula Ingabire, Rwanda’s Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation argued for the need to “democratise access” to advancements in AI.

“At the end of the day, if it’s not affordable, if it’s not accessible, then the digital divide will only be exacerbated,” she said.

The AI Governance Alliance released three papers on tackling AI governance challenges and shaping responsible and inclusive practices. It also announced a new global effort to increase AI access by improving data quality and availability across nations and boosting access to tech resources, and adapting foundation models to suit local needs and challenges.

At the end of DAVOS 24 it was the words of environmentalist Jane Goodall that were the ultimate call to action.

“If only various countries lived up to promises …”


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Vision of Humanity is brought to you by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), by staff in our global offices in Sydney, New York, Brussels, The Hague, Harare and Mexico. Alongside maps and global indices, we present fresh perspectives on current affairs reflecting our editorial philosophy.