By Rachel Koning Beals
It’s seemingly never a waste of time or energy to get the world’s power brokers and high-minded climate-change activists under the same roof, especially when it comes to efforts to slow global warming, forest destruction and deadly heat and drought.
The powerful from both the public and private sectors have returned to Davos, Switzerland, and the World Economic Forum (WEF) , after more than two years away during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, COVID-19 bumped the usual January dates to May this year.
So what if carbon footprints inflate just to get the powerful on site in the Swiss Alps — mostly via private jet and limousine. That’s the cost of doing business?
Increasingly, such a cost does not go unnoticed, as it forms an ironic, even caustic, backdrop to the global leadership’s call for net-zero emissions goals and other lofty targets. When emissions from burning jet fuel and gasoline get trapped in the atmosphere, the Earth warms, increasing ocean levels and making damaging storms, drought and deadly heat happen more often and with more intensity.
Environmental groups, politicians, activists, social media voices and even traditional media columnists want clear action on climate change at big, expensive global gatherings. They deem it necessary to quiet the literal and figurative sound of the polluting engines from air and ground transportation that few of the powerful have yet to give up. Recall that climate hotshots were in the hot seat for transportation choices last Novembe r for the U.N.’s latest high-profile gathering.
Independent journalists especially wasted little time in highlighting on Twitter the emissions-spewing influx in Davos.
U.N. climate dignitary Mark Carney got some steps in on his way to a Davos session but faced heat on the event’s impact.
Scenic by train
WEF organizers have increasingly tried to play their part and inoculate themselves against accusations of hypocrisy: Over the last five years, they say they have offset 100% of the carbon emissions from the organization’s activities by supporting environmental projects. They encourage train travel to the event.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg famously documented her 32-hour train ride to get to the Davos meeting in 2019, where the teenager quieted participants with a fiery speech.
For certain, the time-strapped powerful converge on the Swiss Alps with no shortage of issues at hand : soaring food and fuel prices /zigman2/quotes/210286597/delayed RB00 -0.17% , Russia’s war in Ukraine, drought and food shortages in Africa, a deadly heat wave in India, ever-expanding inequality between rich and poor , and autocratic regimes gaining ground. Plus, COVID-19 hasn’t exactly gone dormant.
Even with all those issues burning, one-third of the roughly 270 panel discussions through Thursday’s finale will focus on climate change or its effects, with extreme weather, efforts to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and finding new, cleaner sources of energy /zigman2/quotes/205740995/composite ICLN -0.42% on the agenda.
It was in Paris 2015 at a U.N.-organized climate conference that governments set the voluntary goal to keep the global temperature from rising at least no more than 2 degrees Celsius compared to before the Industrial Revolution, and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees. Moving forward, the idea is to get more nations, and most of the private sector in turn, to abide.
The president of the next U.N. climate change conference in Egypt, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, told the Associated Press on the Davos sidelines that his event in November — Commitments of Parties 27 (COP27) — will push countries to make good on their pledges to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions and facilitate talks on compensating developing countries for global warming effects. And, he says, Egypt will allow climate activists to protest, one sign it may not just be the elite jetting in and out.