Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg on Tuesday slammed the business elite for doing “basically nothing” on climate change, as the Davos forum braced for an address from US President Donald Trump hours before his impeachment trial begins.
The 50th meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Swiss Alps resort got underway seeking to thrash out dangers to both the environment and economy from the heating of the planet.
Trump, who has repeatedly expressed scepticism about climate change, is set to give the first keynote address of Davos 2020, on the same day as his impeachment trial opens at the Senate in Washington.
Before his appearance, Thunberg underlined the message that has inspired millions around the world, saying “basically nothing has been done” to fight climate change.
“It will require much more than this. This is just the very beginning,” the 17-year-old said.
Speaking calmly and with a wry smile, Thunberg acknowledged that her campaign which began with school strikes had attracted huge attention without yet achieving concrete change.
“There is a difference between being heard to actually leading to something,” she said.
“I am not the person who should complain about not being heard,” she said to appreciative laughter.
“I am being heard all the time. But the science and the voice of the young people are not at the centre of the conversation.”
While the WEF and individual business leaders have been detailing their own concerns about climate change, Greenpeace complained in a new report that some of the world’s biggest banks, insurers and pension funds have collectively invested $1.4 trillion in fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal in 2016.
“Pretty much nothing has been done as global Co2 emissions have not been reduced. And that is of course what we are trying to achieve,” said Thunberg.
There are no expectations that Trump and Thunberg, who have exchanged barbs through Twitter, will actually meet, but the crowded venue and intense schedule mean a chance encounter cannot be ruled out.
When Trump and his entourage walked through UN headquarters last year at the annual General Assembly, a photo of the teenager staring in apparent fury at the president from the sidelines went viral.
Tweeting before arriving in Davos aboard his Marine One helicopter, Trump appeared in bullish mood, writing he would “bring Good Policy and additional Hundreds of Billions of Dollars back to the United States of America!”
Although Trump’s Republican party holds a majority in the Senate and is almost sure to acquit him on charges of abusing his power and obstructing Congress, the impeachment adds volatility to an already tense 2020 presidential election.
‘Governments continue to fail’
Sustainability is the buzzword at the Davos forum, which began in 1971, with heel crampons handed out to participants to encourage them to walk on the icy streets rather than use cars, and the signage paint made out of seaweed.
Trump’s opposition to renewable energy, his withdrawal from the Paris accord negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama, and the free hand extended to the fossil fuel industry puts him at odds with this year’s thrust of the event.
“People are playing a lot more attention to” climate, Eurasia Group president Ian Bremner told AFP at Davos, adding there was “genuine action by some big players”, after investment titan BlackRock said it was partially divesting out of coal.
“But let’s be clear — a big part of this is because we failed for a very long time and governments continue to fail,” he added.
Business leaders are likely also to be concerned by the state of the global economy whose prospects, according to the International Monetary Fund, have improved but remain brittle.
The IMF cut its global growth estimate for 2020 to 3.3 percent, saying that a recent truce in the trade war between China and the US had brought some stability but that risks remained.
“We are already seeing some tentative signs of stabilisation but we have not reached a turning point yet,” said IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva.
Activists meanwhile will be pressing for much more concrete action to fight inequality, after Oxfam issued a report outlining how the number of billionaires has doubled in the past decade and the world’s 22 richest men now have more wealth than all the women in Africa.