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Davos braces for Trump-Greta showdown as climate change tops agenda

21.01.2020

It's the first time the two are attending the same event since the teenager famously stared down Trump at the UN last year. The annual jamboree is taking place against the backdrop of Australia's worst ever bushfires.

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg returns to the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the 2020 World Economic Forum with a strong and clear message: put an end to the fossil fuel "madness."

Thunberg's missive is aimed at, among others, US President Donald Trump, who in the past has mocked the Swedish environmental campaigner, saying she has an "anger management problem." Trump, who is among the most prominent climate change skeptics, is returning to Davos after giving it a miss in 2019 due to a government shutdown.

It's the first time Trump and Thunberg would be present at the same event since last year's United Nations climate change summit in New York, where the teenager could be seen staring down the US president as the two briefly crossed paths.

Later, Thunberg — named Time magazine's Person of the Year 2019 — told the BBC that she "wouldn't have wasted [her] time" talking to Trump about the climate crisis at the UN event.

"Honestly, I don't think I would have said anything because obviously he's not listening to scientists and experts, so why would he listen to me," she said.

'State of emergency'

Thunberg, who famously told Davos participants last year that "our house is on fire," has, however, found support among the organizers of the World Economic Forum, including its 81-year-old founder Klaus Schwab, who said the world is facing "a state of emergency."

"We do not want to reach the tipping point of irreversibility on climate change," Schwab told reporters on Tuesday. "We do not want the next generations to inherit a world, which becomes ever more hostile and ever less habitable — just think of the wildfires in Australia," he said.

An annual risks survey published by the WEF on Wednesday put climate and other environmental threats ahead of risks posed by geopolitical tensions and cyberattacks. It's the first time that the survey found the top five long-term risks were all environmental, from extreme weather events to businesses and governments failing to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Stakeholder capitalism

Sustainability is the main theme at this year's Davos meeting, taking place at a time the world is grappling with global warming becoming worse because of growing divisions among nations and businesses on how to tackle it.

The meeting, which will see over 50 heads of state and government, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, descend on the Alpine resort, seeks to give concrete meaning to "stakeholder capitalism" — a concept that businesses should serve the interests of all society rather than simply their shareholders.

"Business has now to fully embrace stakeholder capitalism, which means not only maximizing profits, but use their capabilities and resources in cooperation with governments and civil society to address the key issues of this decade," Schwab said. "They have to actively contribute to a more cohesive and sustainable world."

Davos 2020 by the numbers

2019: Climate protests take center stage as the world burns
January: Germany sets coal end date

After lengthy talks, a government-appointed commission announces Germany plans to stop producing energy from coal-fired plants by 2038. Climate campaigners say it's too little, too late. Germany currently generates nearly 40% of its electricity from coal and has failed to meet targets set under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The anticipated phaseout cost: €40 billion ($44 billion).

2019: Climate protests take center stage as the world burns
February: On thin ice

After a five-year study, scientists warn two-thirds of glaciers in the Hindu-Kush-Himalayan region could melt by 2100 if global carbon emissions are not cut. Meltwater from the area, home to Mount Everest, feeds into 10 of the world's most important river systems. Water shortages would cripple food and energy production in eight countries, directly or indirectly affecting nearly 2 billion people.

2019: Climate protests take center stage as the world burns
March: Cyclone Idai batters Africa

"One of the deadliest storms on record in the Southern Hemisphere" — according to the UN — hits low-lying Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, killing nearly 1,000 people and causing widespread damage. Vast swaths of farmland are flooded, bringing disease and food shortages. Six weeks later, another cyclone strikes. Some 62 million people were affected by extreme weather in 2018, says the WMO.

2019: Climate protests take center stage as the world burns
April: Disorder and disruption

Extinction Rebellion causes more than a week of travel chaos in London with disruptive, colorful protests across the British capital. In the UK and around the world, the activist group's rallies make headlines throughout the year as they promote radical political, economic and social change to avert the worst effects of global warming. Critics call their plans to abandon fossil fuels unrealistic.

2019: Climate protests take center stage as the world burns
May: Green revolution sweeps Europe

At the EU elections, voter turnout is up — and populist and environmentalist parties make big gains. European Green parties win 74 seats in the 751-member European Parliament. The German Greens take more than 20% of the vote, their best-ever results. Frans Timmermans is chosen as the European Commission's new climate chief, with the bloc aiming to cut carbon emissions by at least 55% by 2030.

2019: Climate protests take center stage as the world burns
June: Climate protests target coal

Thousands of protesters descend on Garzweiler, one of Germany's biggest open-pit coal mines near Cologne, protesting plans to expand at the expense of nearby old-growth forest. Meanwhile, an estimated 40,000 people from across Europe march through Aachen to campaign for more climate action. Over the Channel, the UK parliament becomes the first in the world to declare a symbolic climate emergency.

2019: Climate protests take center stage as the world burns
July: It's getting hot

Much of Europe suffers through an intense heat wave, with temperatures breaking 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) across the continent — smashing records set just weeks earlier. People are advised to limit time spent outdoors, while travelers face delays due to speed restrictions on superheated railway tracks. Climate monitoring agencies report July as the hottest month on record.

2019: Climate protests take center stage as the world burns
August: Amazon on fire

The number of forest fires in the Amazon surges to its highest point since 2010, and thousands of firefighters are deployed to put out the blaze. President Jair Bolsonaro blasts a global outcry that not enough is being done to protect the world's largest tropical rainforest, insisting on Brazil's sovereign right. Previously, he blamed rainforest protections for hindering economic development.

2019: Climate protests take center stage as the world burns
September: Thunberg vs. Trump

Teen activist Greta Thunberg, who inspired Fridays for Future protests worldwide, blasts world leaders at the United Nations for "failing to act" on the climate crisis. "Change is coming, whether you like it or not." As millions of young people join marches around the world, leaders from more than 70 countries commit to carbon neutrality by 2050 — but not China, Russia, India, Japan or China.

2019: Climate protests take center stage as the world burns
October: Climate in court

Local groups, cities and young people around the world increasingly take their climate concerns to court in 2019. Just this month: a group of 15 youths (above) sues the Canadian government for violating their fundamental rights with policies that fail to curb CO2 emissions. Over in Germany, a court rejects a lawsuit by three farming families against Berlin's failed climate mitigation efforts.

2019: Climate protests take center stage as the world burns
November: Rising waters

Venice is hit by exceptional floods, with water levels topping 1.5 meters (nearly 5 feet) three times in one week — the worst flooding since records began in 1872. Famed monuments and museums, including St. Mark's Basilica and the crypt, are inundated. Undeterred tourists, however, continue to snap selfies. Meanwhile, Oxford English Dictionary names "climate emergency" its word of the year.

2019: Climate protests take center stage as the world burns
December: 'Our war against nature must stop'

As world leaders meet in Madrid for the COP25 climate conference, the head of the UN says the world is rapidly approaching the "point of no return." An EU report says the environmental situation has worsened, with the bloc likely to miss 2030 carbon reduction targets. Reacting to climate concerns, the European Parliament declares a "climate emergency" and the EU Commission lays out its Green Deal.

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Greener Davos

The annual jamboree — which is marking its golden jubilee this year — has often been criticized for its own carbon footprint, mainly left behind by leaders flying in their private jets.

The WEF, on its part, is touting that this year's meet would be among the most sustainable international summits ever held. It promises to buy carbon credits to offset flights, line up more electric vehicles and offer locally-sourced food.

"It is something we take very seriously,'' Adrian Monck, the WEF's managing director, told reporters. "There is nothing worse than an organization identifying a risk and doing nothing about it."

The WEF plans to launch a scheme using public and private funds to plant 1 trillion trees by the end of this decade.

Geopolitical tensions

The summit that runs from Tuesday to Friday this week would also focus on issues such as global trade wars, inequality, record debt levels and geopolitical tensions in the Middle East.

While key leaders from Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, Pakistan and Afghanistan are expected to attend the event, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif will not be present as Tehran deals with protests following the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet.

Zarif's cancelation also comes against the backdrop of rising tensions in the Middle East since US air strikes killed Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian general, earlier in the month.

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