Davos 2015: World Economic Forum to get back to basics

Ollie Gordon
The world’s elite will swarm to Davos this week, hoping to make sense of an uncertain climate
Over the last 44 years the world’s political and business elite has migrated to the serene Swiss Alpine town of Davos to discuss the key challenges facing global development in the ensuing year.

The 2015 meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) will be much of the same: 40 heads of state will make up the 2,500 delegates flying in from over 90 countries. Political leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will rub shoulders with the likes of Prudential boss Tidjane Thiam, Google’s Eric Schmidt, and Alibaba founder Jack Ma. The conference wil also have its usual smattering of celebrity stardust, with pop titans Will.I.Am and Pharrell Williams gracing Davos’s icy streets this year.

One difference to the editions of recent years, however, will be the core topics of discussion. The global economic downturn has hijacked the events of recent memory, but with the crisis now largely in the rear view mirror, hosts at the WEF are keen for debate to return to the key international policy objectives for which the conference is best known: trade liberalisation, climate change, poverty alleviation, and innovations driving global development.

Katherine Garrett-Cox of Alliance Trust, who will be on the WEF’s chairing panel this week, told City A.M.: “The world in 2015 is facing a real dilemma: increasing protectionism and nationalism at a time when technological advances are breaking down borders and increasing the speed of transparency at every level.”

Predicting the key takeaways of any Davos is always a tricky business. But a good indicator usually comes through the WEF’s Global Risk Report, published last week.

John Drzik, president of global risk and specialties at insurance broker Marsh, helped produce this year’s report. He told City A.M. about its core findings. “Firstly, geopolitical risk is on the rise. Issues like inter-state conflict and failure of states are increasing, and ultimately migrating into the economic sector in the form of trade sanctions, tariffs and trade wars.

“Then there’s urbanisation: large scale urbanisation in many parts of the world is now amplifying a number of existing risks such as infectious disease, water crisis and social instability.

“And finally, there’s the risk of emerging technologies. Cyber-risk is very visible and is an area in which there’s been a lot of innovation. We estimate cyber-crime will cost the world around $400bn this year. Innovations in synthetic biology, and artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, will be big themes this year.”

On a lighter note, one extra issue delegates will have to contend with comes from the decision to scrap the exchange rate peg. Those looking to change money on the flight out are in for a bit of shock.

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