Dozens of leaders to gather in Davos for annual World Economic Forum

Participants are seen during a session of the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 17, 2023. The Alpine resort will host this year's World Economic Forum from Jan. 15 through Jan 19, 2024. [AFP]

More than 60 world leaders will join hundreds of business executives and campaigners at the Swiss ski resort of Davos Monday for the five-day annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, where they will discuss some of the biggest global challenges.

Critics say the summit is a meeting of the super-rich and that it fails to tackle growing global inequality.

The issues on the Davos agenda appear daunting: in the immediate term, worsening conflicts in many parts of the world along with Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea; and wider threats including potentially catastrophic climate change, a weak global economy and fears over the adverse impacts of artificial intelligence.

In its Global Risks Report 2024, published Wednesday, summit organizers highlighted misinformation and disinformation as the biggest short-term risk.

“The potential impact on elections worldwide over the next two years is significant, and that could lead to elected governments’ legitimacy being put in question. And this, in turn, could, of course, threaten democratic processes that lead to further social polarization, riots, strikes, or even intra-state violence,” report co-author Carolina Klint of the risk consultancy Marsh McLennan, told a London press conference Wednesday.

The report labeled extreme weather events and climate change as the top long-term risks over a 10-year time frame.

"Yes, it’s a very gloomy outlook, but by no means is it a hard, fast, set prediction of the future,” Saadia Zahidi, the economic forum’s managing director said. “The future is very much in our hands. Yes, there are structural shifts underway but most of these things are very much in the hands of decision-makers across different stakeholders and that’s where the effort really needs to be,” she told reporters.

The Davos summit takes place against the backdrop of two major wars, in Ukraine and Gaza.

Among those due at the Alpine ski resort are Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Chinese Premier Li Qiang and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will attend, along with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Alongside the political leaders will be hundreds of the world’s most powerful chief executives, including the head of OpenAI, Sam Altman, and Microsoft’s chief executive officer, Satya Nadella.

Critics say the wealth of the world’s super-rich has increased, while billions around the world have become poorer over the past decade – and Davos will do little to reverse that trend.

“Across the world people are feeling extraordinary hardship. And at the same time there’s a few sprinting off at the very top into the distance. And some of them will be in Davos,” said Nabil Ahmed of aid agency Oxfam International.

“It is, yes, a space for dialogue, for important discussions, even for holding political and business leaders to account. It’s why organizations like Oxfam take part. But it’s also not an international, democratic space in which transparent, accountable decisions are being made,” Ahmed told VOA.

The summit organizers say it’s vital to bring together political and business leaders to find solutions to the world’s myriad challenges.

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