Russia’s shadow, nature nurtured, Manchin on deck at Davos

Where there’s a WEF, there’s a way.
Where there’s a WEF, there’s a way.
Image: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann
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Welcome back, Davos delegates and WEF watchers!

It’s been a long two-plus years since we were last in the Alps, sending dispatches that captured the mostly positive mood of the 2020 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. In January that year, George Soros saw glimmers of hope for democracy. The descriptions of sessions used the word “opportunity” far more than the word “crisis.” But our first newsletter that week noted in passing that “China confirmed human-to-human transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus.”


At 2,000-odd participants, Davos is thinner on the ground than its 2020 iteration, which drew 3,000. Nevertheless, there will be plenty of news, gossip, and wonkery to report: hence this daily email. Over the next five days, Quartz’s Davos team will brave back-to-back sessions at the Congress Centre, flag down grandees for interviews, keep our ears pricked for stories, and swill nightcaps at soirees. If you’re at Davos as well, send us tips, party invitations, and umbrellas.

👕 Warm indeed

A welcome banner in Davos
A warm welcome indeed.
Image: Quartz

This Swiss spring weather is unusually warm for a WEF meeting in Davos. (What’s a WEF without treading delicately on icy sidewalks?) Today’s forecast calls for a low of 50°F (10°C), a high of 68°F (20°C), and good chances of rain and thunderstorms most of the day. Trade in those crampons for some waterproof hiking boots, and you’ll be set.

⚔️ The shadow of Russia

For years, Vladimir Putin’s government sponsored Russia House, a Davos outpost where delegates drank shots of vodka and ate canapés. Not this year, though. With Russian companies and executives barred from WEF, the building has been turned into the Russia War Crimes House, a venue for an exhibition of photos from the Ukraine war.

The exterior of the Russian War Crimes House in Davos
Image: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann

On the WEF agenda, the Russia-Ukraine war is everywhere. One of the first panels of the day is on the use and efficacy of sanctions (8:45am in the Congress Centre and livestreamed). Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy beams in from Kyiv to address the assembly at 11:15am (also livestreamed). The Klitschko brothers—Vitali, boxer-turned-mayor of Kyiv, and Wladimir, boxer-turned-philanthropist—are on a stage at midday. In the afternoon, a panel wonders: “Russia: What Next?”

Along with covid, the war has a defining presence in the WEF program this year. Even the topics of other discussions—refugees, oil and gas, globalization, food shortages—will point to Davos’ Russia anxiety in thin disguise.

🌲 The word is “nature”

Most of the climate panels at Davos this year are using the word “nature” instead to describe themselves. Just today, for example, a workshop explores investments in “nature-based solutions” (9:15am in the Congress Centre), Colombia’s president aspires to “[return] nature to cities” (panel at 3pm in the Congress Centre), and bankers discuss “nature action.”

Why the shift in vocabulary? Is “nature” a gentler, less bureaucratic word compared to “net zero,” “the carbon economy,” or “climate change”? Or has the pandemic made us believe, as one of the final panels of the day suggests, that we’ve received “a wake-up call from nature”? That session, featuring the CEO of Moderna and the director-general of World Wildlife Fund International, will be moderated by Magdalena Skipper, the editor in chief of—you guessed it—Nature.

👀 What else to watch for today

Joe Manchin has a lot to answer for. The US senator joins a bipartisan panel at 12:30pm in Congress Hall to offer “the view from Capitol Hill.” How hard will moderator Zanny Minton Beddoes of The Economist go after the West Virginia Democrat for blocking US president Joe Biden’s attempts at a reasonable climate policy?

The covid gap. The global vaccine alliance Gavi launched in Davos more than 20 years ago. Has its presence here ever been more important? At 2:15pm at the Congress Centre, Gavi CEO Seth Berkley joins Moderna’s CEO, the heads of Oxfam International and the Wellcome Trust, and the president of Botswana for a session titled “Equitable Responses to Ending the Pandemic.”

Designing for disability. Another organization launched right here in Davos is The Valuable 500, which last year finally reached its goal of getting 500 CEOs to commit to basic principles of disability inclusion. Founder Caroline Casey will be one of the panelists at a 4:45pm session in the Congress Centre on driving inclusion through innovation, moderated by our own Katherine Bell.

We built these cities. At 5:45pm in the Congress Centre, the mayors of Stockholm and Miami join the CEOs of JLL and SNC-Lavalin (yes, that SNC Lavalin) for a panel on the post-pandemic city.

Missed the opening reception Sunday evening? WEF founder Klaus Schwab gives his official welcoming remarks at 10:45am today in Congress Hall, with Swiss president Ignazio Cassis also on hand to greet you.

🌏 News from elsewhere

Didi shareholders will vote on whether to delist in the US today. The ride-hailing company says leaving the New York Stock Exchange is necessary to pass a cybersecurity review in China and get back to business as usual. Analysts warn of losses no matter which way the vote goes.

US president Joe Biden says “everyone should be concerned” about Monkeypox. His remarks came as the number of countries with confirmed cases ticked up over the weekend.

Anthony Albanese was elected prime minister of Australia. “Albo,” as the progressive Labor leader is nicknamed, will take over from the Liberal party’s Scott Morrison, a conservative who has been called that country’s first post-truth head of state.

Amazon is reportedly looking to sublet warehouse space. Now that pandemic shopping is winding down, Bloomberg says the company wants to rent out at least 10 million square feet it no longer requires.

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Our best wishes for a productive day. Today’s Need to Know: Davos was brought to you by Samanth Subramanian, Heather Landy, and Katherine Bell.