Innovation, ecology, geopolitics: lessons from the Davos Forum 2024

The 2024 installment of the World Economic Forum has now come and gone, and it was as eventlful as expected. It had important discussions; like the conversation around AI and current economic challenges. It had a lot more, and in this article we will be bringing you highlights from everyday of the program.

Day 1: Opening Ceremony of the WEF Annual Meeting 2024

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2024 kicked off on the evening of January 15 in Davos with a mesmerizing opening concert dedicated to two vital ecosystems: the Sahara desert and the Amazon rainforest. 

The opening ceremony featured the presentation of the annual Crystal Awards to three distinguished artists who have significantly contributed to society:

  • Diebedo Francis Kere: Hailing from Burkina Faso, Kere received the award for his outstanding leadership in creating a socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable future for the Gando community. His architectural projects focus on education, health, and the environment, exemplifying the transformative power of architecture in fostering positive change.
  • Michelle Yeoh: The internationally acclaimed actor, known for her roles in films such as “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” and “Star Trek: Discovery,” made history as the first woman of Asian descent to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. Beyond her contributions to the film industry, Yeoh has been an advocate for wildlife conservation, climate change awareness, and ethical business practices.
  • Nile Rodgers: Renowned musician and producer Rodgers was recognized for his extraordinary efforts to promote peace, equality, and inclusivity. His iconic music, including collaborations with artists like Diana Ross, David Bowie, and Madonna, has not only left an indelible mark on the music industry but also served as a catalyst for social change. Rodgers emphasized the importance of giving back and using the power of music to connect with people around the world.

The opening concert, transformed into an AI-driven immersive experience by Refik Anadol, transcended traditional performances. It featured a specially formed group of world-class musicians, including the multi-award-winning singer and activist Angelique Kidjo, French Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, and Brazilian singer, composer, and guitarist Will Santt. The concert symbolized the deep interconnectivity between the distant ecosystems of the Sahara and the Amazon rainforest. Through the powerful combination of art and advocacy, the event managed to infuse a message on the urgency of environmental action. 

While the opening ceremony marked the commencement of the annual meeting, substantive sessions and panel discussions were scheduled to begin on January 16. The awards ceremony and opening concert set a vibrant tone for the upcoming discussions, emphasizing the interplay between art, leadership, and global challenges.

Day 2: Opening Calls for Global Cooperation

The Annual Meeting at Davos commenced with a strong call for global cooperation. Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, emphasized the need to analyze global challenges systematically. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, echoed the sentiment, highlighting Europe’s unique role in fostering global solidarity.

Jake Sullivan, United States National Security Advisor, expressed hope for peace and security through international collaboration, stressing the importance of wise and bold decisions.

World Economic Forum President Børge Brende emphasized the crucial role of global unity. Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Prime Minister of Qatar, called for dialogue to address the conflict in Gaza, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy proposed a global summit for peace. The call for united support for Ukraine, especially in the face of Russian aggression, was reiterated by Ursula von der Leyen and Jake Sullivan.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang emphasized the need for global conversation and collaboration to drive economic growth. However, leaders like Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh emphasized the importance of ensuring economic growth doesn’t compromise social equity or environmental protection. The Chief Economists Outlook indicated an uncertain global economic outlook for 2024.

The discussion on monetary policy highlighted the likelihood of interest rate drops in some economies in the coming year, with François Villeroy de Galhau, Governor of the Central Bank of France, characterizing it as an era of fair money.

Impact of AI

Participants recognized the widespread impact of artificial intelligence. The Generative AI session underscored the need for reskilling to harness AI’s potential. Governance and responsible use were focal points, with Chinese Premier Li Qiang advocating for a global AI governance mechanism. The session on the expanding universe of generative models emphasized the delicate balance between innovation, open access, and regulation. Leaders like Satya Nadella (Microsoft) and Ruth Porat (Google) discussed AI’s diverse applications, with a strong emphasis on cybersecurity.

Building Future Energy Systems

Addressing shocks to energy supplies, Ursula von der Leyen highlighted collaborative efforts in building future energy systems. The Transforming Energy Demand session emphasized the importance of improving energy efficiency for benefits ranging from lower bills to enhanced security. The link between climate change, health, and technology’s role in decarbonizing industries was explored in-depth.

Day 3: The Future of Global Governance

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for reforms to global governance, advocating for a ‘reformed, inclusive, networked multilateralism.’ The North-South Schism session emphasized the need for diverse global voices in solving challenges.

Skills, and AI once again took center stage, with discussions on the future of supply chains and the vital role of a skilled workforce. French President Emmanuel Macron stressed the importance of creating jobs to support the green transition and the need for education relevant to labor market needs. Reskilling discussions in the Race to Reskill session highlighted the role of technology, with caution about the governance of AI from leaders like Brad Smith (Microsoft).

Leaders like Pedro Sánchez called for a new model of growth and collaboration. The Future of Growth Report outlined the need for a new paradigm coupling economic growth with environmental sustainability. Discussions on trust in economics emphasized collaboration and interdisciplinary dialogue.

Day 4: Global Security and Resilience

Israeli President Isaac Herzog addressed the conflict in Gaza, calling for international support. Collaboration across various spaces was emphasized, acknowledging the complexity of global challenges. Disinformation’s challenge to global security was highlighted in the Defending Truth session.

Discussions on AI delved into geopolitics, regulation, and the need for global collaboration. Urgency in moving the energy transition forward dominated discussions, with a focus on hurdles and financing in sessions like Decarbonizing Emerging Markets.

The importance of trade and investment as drivers of economic growth was also highlighted. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organization, emphasized the two-way relationship between growth and trade, advocating for a mindset shift embracing trade and globalization.

Day 5: Closing the 54th WEF Annual Meeting: A Call to Rebuild Trust

The World Economic Forum’s 2024 annual meeting in Davos concluded on Friday, echoing a resounding call to rebuild trust in the face of escalating global uncertainty. Recognizing the urgency to counter growing fragmentation and polarization, the meeting provided a crucial platform for fostering dialogue, cooperation, and action-oriented partnerships.

WEF President’s Vision: A New Spirit of Solidarity

WEF President Borge Brende highlighted the forum’s pivotal role in instilling a “new spirit of solidarity” globally. He underlined the potential for achieving “strong results” through international cooperation, emphasizing the need for collective efforts to address the critical and complex challenges confronting the world.

In his closing remarks, Brende acknowledged the multifaceted challenges faced by the world, spanning rising global temperatures, a fragile economy, and a deteriorating security landscape. These challenges, he emphasized, transcend borders and impact every individual on the planet. The annual meeting served as a platform to confront these challenges head-on.

Brende recognized the erosion of the foundation of cooperation and trust in recent years. He underscored the significance of the week’s discussions on rebuilding trust, where leaders from diverse sectors and generations demonstrated what can be achieved through collaboration.

Expressing pride in the accomplishments of the Davos summit, Brende emphasized the need to carry the progress made in the past week into the coming year. The focus remains on rebuilding trust in the future, in the capacity to overcome challenges, and, most importantly, in each other.

Close to 3,000 participants from over 120 countries convened in Davos for the 54th WEF Annual Meeting. More than 450 sessions and workshops provided a rich landscape for dialogue, debate, and alignment across diverse perspectives. The global gathering showcased the commitment of leaders from public and private sectors, spanning various generations, to collectively shape the path forward.

Written by Olivier Noudjalbaye Dedingar, USA and UN Correspondent.

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Olivier Noudjalbaye Dedingar

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