Davos 2015: world leaders still care more about economic competition than the environment

The elite offered no more than platitudes to the poor countries that will be most damaged by climate change


In their annual festival of networking, workshops and Dom Perignon, the world’s business and political leaders last week convened for the 45th World Economic Forum held in the exclusive Swiss ski resort of Davos.

With delegates descending in a carbon-infused haze of over 1700 private jets and paying a reported $40,000 a ticket, the likelihood of meaningful resolutions on climate change and global inequality were nebulous from the start.

A forum to discuss solutions to today’s environmental and economic challenges, those who naively expected hard promises on climate issues will undoubtedly be left frustrated. With only 17 per cent of attendees being women, Davos’ commitment to promoting gender equality appears just as flimsy.

The environment was ostensibly high up on the 2015 agenda, with over 23 sessions dedicated to climate change, resources security and sustainability. The President of the World Bank Jim Kim addressed the WEF and called for urgency in dealing with climate change.

Yet he failed to accept that the same system of global capitalism which inherently produces inequalities on an international scale is the same system which erodes environmental resources and depletes biodiversity levels.

Refusing to accept any conflict between the world’s rich polluters and poorer nations which suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation, Jim Kim declared:

“We have got to get away from the mutual accusations between rich and poor and move towards cohesive collaboration. Things are different and if we can find ways of being creative, particularly on funding, we are more likely to find agreement.

“What we don’t want is to get to a situation where developing countries are saying to the rich countries: ‘where’s that $100bn a year you promised us’.”

So the concept of historical emissions – the fact that ‘developed’ countries have contributed the most to climate change over the centuries – was quickly hidden under the table.

Meanwhile Al Gore announced plans for a 24-hour-long live music extravaganza is to be held in June as a grand scale climate change awareness raising exercise – with concerts involving more than 100 as yet unannounced acts on seven continents. After all, why take drastic measures to curb carbon emissions when you can hold a series of mega-fun music concerts?

Davos 2015 has merely reaffirmed what the green movement knew all along; global capitalism and environmental degradation are inextricably linked. If climate change is to be seriously tackled in our lifetimes, we need to rethink the global economic model which prioritises competition, growth and domination over sustainability, environmental protection and economic equality.

There is a growing body of evidence which supports the necessity of economic reconfiguration as the only mechanism of addressing climate change while creating sustainable jobs. A report by Cambridge Econometrics published in September 2014 outlined the economic benefits to the UK in adjusting to a carbon neutral economy.

Davos 2015 ultimately did nothing to dismantle, or even question, our current system in which highly economically developed counties continue to pollute at the expense of poorer nations, which are also the least equipped to deal with the disastrous effects of climate change.

World leaders offered platitudes of ‘poverty alleviation’ and promised nothing of substance to the global poor. After all, as Naomi Klein has outlined in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, the world’s corporate elite have little to gain from altering a system which secures their profit margins at the expense of the planet. The climate crisis is inevitably a crisis of capitalism.

But what Davos has underlined is the urgent necessity of a renewed surge in grass-roots collective struggle to secure limits on carbon emissions, promote climate jobs and curb fossil fuel consumption to prevent further global temperature rises.

This September, leaders will meet in Paris for the COP21 environmental talks. Grass-roots, local campaigns are mobilising in earnest to force world leaders to take decisive, meaningful action on climate change. The stakes are now too high not to.

Olivia Arigho Stiles is a former associate editor of the Oxford Left Review. She now works as a journalist and blogs here. Follow her on Twitter

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