Davos 2020: The World Economic Forum opens its 50th session

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The world’s top business leaders, politicians and thinkers gathered in Davos, Switzerland, on Monday to begin the 50th edition of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The week-long WEF seeks to bring together international leaders to collaborate and “shape the global, regional and industry agendas” every year.

This year around 3,000 participants from 117 countries are expected to attend amid widespread concern over faltering economies and deepening polarization, epitomized by the US-China trade war which cut world growth prospects throughout the majority of 2019 – a situation that only now appears to be easing.

The forum’s theme this year is “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World,” after a year in which climate activism took off globally.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg, whose fervent speech at Davos last year helped thrust the climate movement into the limelight, is set to attend again, alongside many other young climate activists.

“People are revolting against the economic ‘elites’ they believe have betrayed them, and our efforts to keep global warming limited to 1.5°C are falling dangerously short,” WEF Founder and Executive Chairman Professor Klaus Schwab said in a statement.

“With the world at such critical crossroads, this year we must develop a “Davos Manifesto 2020” to reimagine the purpose and scorecards for companies and governments,” he added.

US President Donald Trump will open WEF on Tuesday with a keynote address, having skipped last year’s event due to the government shutdown. His speech will be the first day of his impeachment trial in the Republic-controlled US Senate.

Some 52 other heads of state, including German premier Angela Merkel, are among the attendees, according to WEF.

Aside from the climate, world leaders will have plenty of talking points. This year has already witnessed a spike in geopolitical tensions, beginning with the assassination of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani at the beginning of January.

Iranian authorities responded with missile strikes against US troops in Iraq, increasing fears of outright regional conflict.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif cancelled his plans to attend WEF last week due to the deteriorating situation in Iran, meaning there will be no Iranian officials among the attendees.

For the economy, the challenges that shaped 2019 are unlikely to disappear in 2020. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its most recent World Economic Outlook cut its growth forecast to 3 percent for 2019, the lowest level since the 2008 financial crisis.

All eyes will be watching how trade fares throughout the year, with risks associated with the US Presidential election likely to weigh on markets and investors.

In 1971, WEF was established to serve the idea that “business should serve all stakeholders,” whether that be customers, employees, communities, or shareholders. This year, the attendees have the opportunity to renew their commitment to this ideal – but with significant challenges ahead, the forum’s success is far from certain.

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