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Here’s what happened Wednesday at Davos

By Bank of America &
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The 45th annual World Economic Forum is underway in Davos, where the focus is on broad uncertainty challenging both the billion- and civilian-minded. With a theme like “The New Global Context,” are attendees feeling fresh mists of post-recession spring or ever-gathering fog of disaster and gloom? As one cartoonist sees it, you can take your pick:

Here’s what’s worth keeping an eye on from the first big Davos day.

CLIMATE CHARGE Ambition. Urgency. Unveiling. PowerPoint. Celebrity. If Davos bingo exists, Al Gore speaking on climate challenges would be every player’s dream. And that’s not meant to criticize—his work is Davos gold. Gore used his “What’s Next? A Climate for Action” panel to announce a “Live Earth” series of concerts on June 18th that Creative Director Pharrell Williams cryptically promised will “harmonize” all of humanity before crucial Paris climate talks in December.

Gore linked recent record temperatures to natural disasters, echoing the State of the Union reference President Obama made Tuesday night to our very hot millennium so far. He gave Typhoon Haiyan and Hurricane Sandy the context of warmer oceans and more water vapor, while doing the same with drought and fire on very dry land. He even drew a line from halted grain exports after a Russian drought (and fire that killed 55,000) to global food riots and the self-immolation of a Tunisian food vendor that many say began the Arab Spring.

But there are ways to combat climate chaos. Gore pointed to booming wind and solar power advances—and not just in the developed world (Bangladesh has the top rate of solar installations). He noted that “political will is a renewable resource” while lauding the historic China-US emissions cap agreement last year. At the “Better Growth, Better Climate” panel with Felipe Calderon, who spearheaded a climate report last year with the same name, Gore gave it a forceful endorsement.“It is possible to have economic growth and tackle climate change at the same time,” Calderon said, calling on the world to “decarbonize” economic growth. Panelist Lord Stern highlighted a similar joint battle:

Private jets and all, climate had a true Davos moment. Far away from the Alps, many will hope for much more on the horizon.

YES, UKRAINE One of the conference’s biggest stories so far is about who’s leaving, not who’s coming. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced that he was headed home early to address escalating conflict with Russia. But he didn’t depart before giving a rousing speech saying that his “pro-European” country was “under aggression” and fighting for peace, punctuating his remarks by holding up part of a bus from a recent conflict scene.

Poroshenko cast Ukraine’s plight as a global one, pleading for support. He said he would resume negotiations right away, but without progress on a ceasefire and restored borders secure from Russian-backed rebels, he saw little reason for hope.

DATA POINTS Different territory was in play during a panel on “The New Digital Context,” which wrestled with the simultaneous risks and rewards of that most Davos of themes—disruption. Of course, unwelcome tech upheaval has been all too real of late. “The problems of security are going to go up exponentially this year,” Cisco CEO John T. Chambers said. “Every company will be broken into, every country will be broken into.” Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme took the positive side of the upended digital plane, saying, “I want my data to be secure, but I want it to be helpful.” The big challenge and opportunities for companies and governments in 2015, is how to to achieve that balance to process data safely and effectively. Nimble startups might have even more gaps to fill. “Small disrupters can now take advantage of data in ways that previously only big companies enjoyed,” said PayPal co-founder and serial tech entrepreneur Max Levchin.

DIGITAL LIFTOFF During the “Inclusive Growth in the Digital Age” panel, there was unanimous optimism regarding technology’s ability to expand opportunity and growth globally. There was general agreement that education would be critical to this battle. MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson said it’s time for universities to adopt an A/B testing innovation mindset, while Vishal Sikka, CEO and Managing Director of Infosys, said education in the digital age can and must become a life-long activity not limited to the first 20 years of life.

ITALIAN STYLE Shortly after his 40th birthday, Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi briefly spoke at the “Transformative Leadership” discussion. “Italy needs an incredible season of reforms,” he said. “The time of future is today, not tomorrow.” It’s a timely statement given continued worries over the strength of European banks, especially compared to the US, as the ECB weighs a likely move toward quantitative easing tomorrow. During a discussion with the WEF’s Philipp Rösler, Renzi added that “The most important structural reform for Italy will be credibility.”

VISUALIZING GLOBAL COMPETITIVENESS While Davos is sleeping, explore this interactive graphic that compares national performance in matters of pay, productivity, and innovation.

We’ll leave things there for now. Please find us Thursday and Friday for more updates from Davos.

This article was produced on behalf of Bank of America by the Quartz marketing team and not by the Quartz editorial staff.

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