Greenpeace International

01/17/2023 | News release | Distributed by Public on 01/17/2023 08:10

Don’t get distracted by the WEF set: another world is possible

Once a year, droves of private jets carrying invited guests descend on the small Swiss mountain town of Davos, for the World Economic Forum (WEF Annual Meeting). Seemingly oblivious to the irony, attendees' lofty pursuit will be to look for innovative ways to use capitalism to solve the problems caused by capitalism, which continues to rampantly exacerbate inequality and mercilessly exploit our natural world. At the first full-scale forum since the Coronavirus pandemic struck, these corporate bosses seem to prefer imagining the end of the world (for others at least) rather than trying to imagine changing the economic system causing so much harm to our world.

The good news is that the solutions already exist and many others would arise if we created room for them to grow. While the WEF's billionaires have remained at a stalemate on the forum's proclaimed raison d'être for the past half century, individuals and communities around the world are creating their own solutions to crises they are facing, particularly in the Global South - and they work.

People are working together to make more just and sustainable ways of life. Neoliberal capitalism is notably absent from these solutions. Justice plays an active role - recognising the disproportionate impacts on those who contributed the least to the problem. Here are some of the ways that the WEF set have missed the point about creating an equitable and environmentally sustainable future with dignity and safety for all, rather than the extractivist, consumerist, polarising capitalism that characterises them.

The World Economic Forum is a super polluter event

Many of the thousands of attendees travel to Davos by private jet, making a mockery of the WEF's proclaimed commitment to 1.5°C Paris Climate Targets. New analysis reveals the ecological hypocrisy of its attendees. Often travelling very short distances, over a thousand private jets flew in and out of airports serving Davos during the week of the 2022 WEF, causing CO2 emissions four times greater than an average week, equivalent to 350,000 cars. Meanwhile, 80% of people in the world have never flown, and battle through more frequent and dangerous extreme heat, flooding and drought.

A large group of activists from Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace Netherlands hold a peaceful protest at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, the second biggest in the EU, stopping private jets from landing and taking off and sitting and cycling around the area where private jets are parked. © Extinction Rebellion

Private jets and needless short-haul flights are the most striking illustration of climate inequality and invalidate any aspirations to climate conscience. Greenpeace is calling for a Europe-wide ban on the use of private planes.

Following the lead of those most affected, rather than the tired ideas that caused the problem in the first place

The WEF is a private event where most people pay to enter, and usually around 3,000 business leaders, political leaders and media representatives attend. This is not the multilateralism we need. In fact, the UN remains the only true multilateral forum.

The WEF elite have grabbed a devastating amount of power to prop up a dangerous, polluting and flawed system that works for their own benefit at the expense of everyone else and our planet. As international research and advocacy institutes like the Transnational Institute pointed out, there is considerable evidence that past World Economic Forum meetings have stimulated free trade agreements, which have consolidated and extended the neoliberal stranglehold on national and local economies, while limiting the ability for policy makers to legislate in the public interest, as well as helping to water down regulation of the financial sector in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis.

The collusion between these private actors and those who should be making policy in the public interest serves the wealth and power amassed through environmental destruction, human exploitation, tax dodging and avoidance and political gaming. Prioritising private wealth has caused, and continues to cause, widespread social injustice alongside climate and environmental collapse.

The discussions in Davos exclude the very people most impacted by the problems the neoliberal proponents who descend on that small, exclusive ski resort help create. Solutions are not viable, nor will they get to the root of the problem, if they ignore the people who are most affected. Inviting a few token representatives of civil society does not make it an inclusive forum. Especially when those who challenge the dominant narrative aren't invited back.

Fight Inequality concert in Manila, Philippines, 2019. A global week of action was organized by the Fight Inequality Alliance to highlight the growing gap between the rich and the poor. © Jilson Tiu / Greenpeace

The Fight Inequality Alliance is calling for wealth taxes to reduce the extreme inequality creating and exacerbating so many crises in our societies. Oxfam's latest report shows that the richest 1% took almost two-thirds of all wealth created since 2020 - $42 trillion - which is almost twice as much as the rest of us 99% of the world's population.

Taxing the rich and their enormous wealth is such an easy step for public officials to take. What are they waiting for?

Getting creative with our solutions and looking seven generations ahead

The World Economic Forum organisers claim that the purpose of the event is "to bring together the top world leaders to debate the most pressing global problems and seek solutions to these challenges". But we already know what the problems are, and solutions already exist.

By prioritising care and community over privatised profit at any cost, we can build communities, economies and societies that are more resilient and in harmony with our planet. There isn't just one form of development for countries to follow: especially given that rich countries got that way by exploiting others through colonialism, and more recently free-trade rules and militarism, we need to look to other more cooperative and peaceful means. Luckily we have new socio economic models to help us with this.

Indigenous Peoples and communities provide us with especially useful guidance for our actions. They operate from the concept of taking actions today only after considering the impact those actions might have on many generations down the line. What if, before every decision and action we take, we ask the following question first: how will this impact the people seven generations after us? Or even just start by thinking of your children and grandchildren?

Greenpeace Justice Activity at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 2018. Civil society comes together to demand change from leaders at the World Economic Forum: Greenpeace Switzerland activists project messages from Amnesty International, European Trade Union Confederation, Fight Inequality Alliance, Greenpeace, International Trade Union Confederation, Public Eye, Attac Switzerland and the Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice onto the hillsides facing the World Economic Forum. © Greenpeace / Lumina Obscura

As recent climate talks, plastics talks and biodiversity talks show, we need effective multilateral cooperation, ambitious and legally binding agreements, money from rich countries and big polluters, as well as thorough implementation of real solutions rooted in justice. This way we can take action with impact far beyond our own communities, and also shape the world for generations beyond.

We can have economic and political systems that work for humanity and nature, rather than be trapped by them. Let's tax the rich to support healthy and well societies, cancel debt, go beyond GDP to focus on well-being rather than growth. Let's boost energy resilience, and protect climate and nature. We can build a future together based on solidarity and cooperation, where progress is measured in collective well-being from the local to the global level.

The possibilities are endless and our imaginations should run wild. Young people are dreaming of a greener, better, safer and more inclusive future. Radical actions require hope and hope requires imagination. Imagination is the basis to take action. And we have it in abundance.

Let's use it to bring the change we need.

Shira Stanton is Senior Political Strategist at Greenpeace International