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Pandemic, climate, economy top Davos Agenda

Despite U.S.-China tensions, leaders touted cooperation on the pandemic, climate action, and economic recovery during the Davos Agenda virtual gathering.

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks to the World Economic Forum
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks to the World Economic Forum (AN/Huang Jingwen/Xinhua)

Despite U.S.-China tensions over Beijing’s human rights abuses and Washington's support for Taiwan, global leaders touted cooperation on the COVID-19 pandemic, climate action, and economic recovery during the World Economic Forum's weeklong virtual gathering that ended on Friday.

China's President Xi Jinping, one of the headliners, urged nations to "discard Cold War mentality and seek peaceful coexistence and win-win outcomes." Without directly referring to the United States, he said "protectionism and unilateralism can protect no one" and, in the long run, "even worse are the practices of hegemony and bullying, which run counter to the tide of history.”

Two months earlier, Xi and U.S. President Joe Biden met virtually to discuss tensions and to establish what Biden described as “guardrails” to avoid conflict.

In his speech to the WEF audience, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres appealed for greater cooperation in the face of a nearly 2-year pandemic that has infected 330 million people, killed 5.5 million people and disrupted economies around the world.

"Recovery remains fragile and uneven amid the lingering pandemic, persistent labor market challenges, ongoing supply chain disruptions, rising inflation and looming debt traps, not to mention the geopolitical divide," said Guterres.

"We need the support, ideas, financing and voice of the global business community," he said. "We cannot afford to replicate the inequalities and injustices that continue condemning tens of millions of people to lives of want, poverty and poor health. We cannot continue building walls between the haves and have-nots. Or, building walls that undermine a global market that needs to work in a united way."

'Techno-utopian verbiage'

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged to seek a "paradigm shift" on global climate action with his nation's presidency of the Group of Seven rich democracies this year. He suggested nations could fulfill their obligations under the 2015 Paris Agreement through "pricing carbon and preventing carbon leakage” when an industry simply relocates its pollution-making facilities.

Nigeria's Vice President Yemi Osinbajo reminded nations that as part of the Paris treaty they also had committed to mobilizing US$100 billion a year in climate financing for developing nations’ adaptation and resilience to rising temperatures.

The International Monetary Fund's Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said poorer countries remain mired in a debt trap, sapping their ability to recover, and those debts could rise with the U.S. Federal Reserve's anticipated interest rate hikes this year. The European Central Bank President's Christine Lagarde said high energy costs in Europe may cause inflation in the eurozone.

Biden's top medical adviser for COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told one of the sessions he hoped the virus might become endemic this year "but that would only be the case if we don’t get another variant that eludes the immune response.”

Dr. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization's head of emergencies, said “we have a chance to end the public health emergency this year if we do the things that we’ve been talking about" doing for vaccine equity.

Due to the pandemic, WEF's "Davos Agenda" was a virtual summit rather a gathering of 3,000 political and business leaders in the Swiss resort town. The elite gathering has lately drawn more criticism than usual, reflecting the pandemic's wide inequalities.

"If we have indeed become addicted to carbon, growth and extraction, the techno-utopian verbiage which has become the lingua franca of Davos has become a liability," author and former adviser Felix Marquardt, who recently launched Black Elephant as a countervailing project, wrote in June. "There’s also the sense that Davos and other gatherings represent a quick fix. "