Monday, 25 January 2010

What to Discuss in Davos?

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting starts later this week in Davos Switzerland. This gathering of leaders from all walks of life has helped to shape the global agenda at the start of each year since 1970. This year, there are claims that climate change is a hoax and expectations that the financial crisis of 2008 is now over. So what is there left to discuss at Davos?

There are two categories of people who may be less in evidence than previous years – bankers and climate scientists. Bankers have fared worst; their reputation as masters of the universe has been shown to be less than accurate. Unwisely, they have further tarnished their image by awarding themselves a big slice of the bumper profits made on the back of cheap money provided by governments. This is insensitive at the very least. If they want to keep the tentacles of government regulation out of banking then they should have shown more respect for public opinion and taken more responsibility for their actions. Some bankers have been forced out (with their pension pots intact) but few have fallen on their swords or expressed contrition.

Climate scientists - and the chairman of the IPCC in particular - are also in the dog house. Exaggerated claims and sloppy research have made their way into the IPCC reports. These are vital documents that world leaders need to be able to justify taking action. The evidence that climate change is a threat to society is robust, but the presentation of the evidence to persuade a sceptical public has to be transparent and accurate. There are echoes of Tony Blair’s attempt to justify the war in Iraq by over stating the evidence (as we will hear more of on Friday when he appears before the Iraq inquiry). Such deception leaves a bitter taste and is best avoided even if the intentions are honest.

These are dangerous times as leaders gather in Davos. The crisis is far from over – the flaws in the financial system have not been fixed, just papered over. Climate change is real and we are not taking action to reduce the threat. There is plenty to discuss in Davos. We need to move beyond bashing bankers and scientists (no matter how well justified) and get on with the process of building a sustainable future for society.

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