Davos ’23: Can exclusivity & ESG go hand in hand?

This year’s World Economic Forum at the Swiss ski resort of Davos comes at a sensitive time for the global economy, with ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues more important than ever. In such complicated political and economic times, many working within the ESG industry share concern that the event’s opulent reputation could send the wrong message.

While war, slowing economies, the rising cost of living and climate change concern most of us, world leaders, celebrities and CEOs descend on the resort in private jets to party and sip champagne while wringing their hands about the need to address global poverty. 

The World Economic Forum is an important event for global economic discussion and policy formulation, but it also serves as a reminder of the need for ESG considerations to remain at the forefront of any decisions taken this year. Its theme “Cooperation in a Fragmented World”, “focuses on solutions and public-private cooperation to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges”.

Given the meeting’s exclusive location, representatives from lower-income countries, who are most impacted by the climate crisis, can not be in attendance; their voices once again unheard.

‘Cooperation’ might not be the word that springs to mind.

Applying ‘social’ considerations to the WEF demographic

There is a fundamental dilemma at the heart of the WEF’s format; in providing a place for the world’s most powerful and influential people to talk, it simultaneously serves as a stark reminder that they don’t look like ‘us’.

In 2020 Bloomberg calculated 119 billionaires joined the party, with a combined net worth of more than $500 billion. This was the same year the event saw its highest ratio of female participants, in its 52-year history of in-person gatherings, at just 24 percent. A WEF spokesperson has said that 42 percent of speakers this year will be women.

Conversations spark change

But with the need for transition growing increasingly urgent, there’s no doubt the event will serve to maintain momentum in ESG topic awareness. In general, COP27 was seen as another missed opportunity to advert catastrophe; further meetings, such as Davos, provide the opportunity for important issues to be revisited. COP27 saw the US and China restart cooperation on climate change – Davos could provide the backdrop for deeper discussions about the importance of collective action. 


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