At Davos, a day of digs, data, and doppelgängers

Another day done.
Another day done.
Image: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann
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Greetings, delegates and WEF watchers!

The first full day of Davos is behind you, and the weather for the most part was surprisingly sunny. Wish we could say the same about the economic predictions we heard (and about today’s expected weather ☔).

On Monday, the World Economic Forum’s Community of Chief Economists issued forecasts of declining wages and high or very high inflation in most parts of the world in the near future. The planet may suffer the worst food crisis in recent history, and poor countries will have to pick between reining in debt and borrowing to buy food and fuel.

Good thing, then, that the Financial Times’ Gillian Tett will moderate a panel today on bolstering the world’s crisis-management capacity.

🛢️ The energy transition in barbed remarks

This is about as prickly as Davos gets: mildly sardonic comments dressed in jargon at a Monday session titled “Energy Outlook: Overcoming the Crisis.” A sampling:

  • Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s minister for petroleum and natural gas: “Some time ago…[my foreign minister] asked me, ‘What is our dependence on Russian energy?’ I said, ‘The Europeans buy in one afternoon what we buy in a quarter.’”
  • Vicki Hollub, CEO of Occidental Petroleum: “We’re getting a lot of headwinds in the United States…and one is the belief that we can end the use of oil and gas sooner rather than later. When you have that kind of rhetoric, you create an environment where people believe that’s possible—that makes investors and others less willing to invest in the industry.”
  • Robert Habeck, Germany’s vice-chancellor and minister for economic affairs and climate action: “Now we see one of the problems,” he said, referencing a real-time audience poll conducted via a QR code displayed on stage. “Everyone is raising a smartphone. In the old days, you’d just raise your hand. You could save energy by not using the smartphone but by raising your hand.”

✅ The economy, in one word

Geoff Cutmore, moderator of a panel on the global economic outlook: “Are you pretty much convinced that Europe is headed for a recession?”

Jane Fraser, CEO of Citi: “Yes.”

📊 Stats we heard during Monday’s sessions

2: Number of degrees by which Fatih Birol suggested Europeans turn down their thermostats next winter, to help save 20 billion cubic meters of gas, “equivalent to the gas coming through Nord Stream One.”

25%: The chance that Team Transitory largely had it right and inflation will reverse itself gracefully, according to Harvard economist Jason Furman.

30 million: Number of covid vaccine doses that Moderna is “throwing in the garbage” right now, according to CEO Stephane Bancel.

1: Number of new billionaires created every 30 hours during the pandemic, according to Gabriela Bucher, the executive director of Oxfam. There are now 2,668 billionaires in the world, up from 2,095 pre-covid, and the wealth of the 10 richest people in the world is more than that of the poorest 40%, according to Oxfam’s new report on inequality (pdf), presented at the conference.

📋 Who’s here, anyway?

You never know who you’ll see on the Promenade, Davos’ main thoroughfare, but the WEF’s official list of attendees (pdf) offers some clues. Quartz’s examination of the roster reveals:

  • Attendees include 🇺🇸 583 participants from the US, 🇨🇭 220 from Switzerland, 🇬🇧 211 from the UK, and 🇮🇳 109 from India.
  • The tech sector turnout includes six representatives from Google, five each from Microsoft and IBM, four from Meta, and not a single one from Apple or Amazon.
  • At least 42 attendees have the word “sustainability” in their job title.

Check out our more detailed look at the list here.

👬 Doppelgängers

No, German chancellor Olaf Scholz is not on the list of Davos attendees. But US senator Chris Coons is—and The Economist’s Zanny Minton Beddoes couldn’t help but point out the resemblance as she introduced the Delaware Democrat from the stage in Congress Hall.

Can you tell which is which?

US senator Chris Coons
Image: Demetrius Freeman/Pool via Reuters
German chancellor Olaf Scholz
Not here.
Image: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

(That’s Coons above and Scholz below.)

🔵 The Davos blues

Apparently going green is also going to require being blue. On Monday, a panel discussed blue foods: aquatic foods produced sustainably. On Tuesday, a session devoted to “Unlocking the Potential of Blue Carbon (4pm at the Situation Room), will imagine how coastal wetlands might absorb more carbon dioxide. In a queue outside one Monday event, we heard one man ask another about his work with electric vehicles: “What are you using: green hydrogen or blue hydrogen? Most people think we have to start with blue hydrogen.” (While green hydrogen is produced from renewable energy, blue hydrogen is derived from methane.)

As the writer Rebecca Solnit once wrote, blue is “the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not.” Worryingly for the sustainability industry, she also described blue as “the color of where you can never go.”

🍨 Spring treat

Ever enjoy an ice cream outside at a WEF meeting before? Us either, until yesterday, when we came upon a heavenly stand outside the Infosys spot on the Promenade. The soft-serve drizzled with saffron water, date syrup, and cardamom was as good as it looked, and paired perfectly with the midday sun. Davos in May has its advantages.

A cup of soft serve enjoyed on the Promenade at Davos
Stone cold perfection.
Image: Quartz

👀 What to watch for today

The dire need for better jobs. Labor markets are tight, inflation is hectic, and wages aren’t keeping up. At 9am, a panel convenes to talk about the challenges facing the global workforce. In parallel, another session, featuring ministers from Canada, Sweden, and Bangladesh, deliberates the creation of new jobs in the sectors of the future: green energy, digital tech, education, and caregiving.

Crypto’s carbon footprint. The great crypto bust may have temporarily obscured the industry’s carbon footprint, but it’s still out there. Bitcoin alone consumes at least 80 terawatt hours of power every year, more than entire nations. How can crypto firms shrink the environmental damage they do—and are they even thinking about it? A 5:30pm session on this question includes Anthony Scaramucci, erstwhile Trump White House spokesperson and a co-founder of SkyBridge Capital.

Tech in the hot seat. At 2:45pm, attend (or livestream) a conversation with Susan Wojcicki of YouTube, a company grappling with transformation in digital advertising as well as competition from TikTok. At 3:30pm, Satya Nadella talks to WEF founder Klaus Schwab. Perhaps the Microsoft chief will once again offer up a list of books he’s read that we should be reading.

The kids are not all right. Among those hardest hit by the pandemic were young people. At 9am today, Jahnavi Babbar, a student in Geneva, asks panelists how we can help teens and young adults shake off covid’s worst effects. An hour later, in an interactive dialogue, the authors of WEF’s Youth Recovery Plan extend the theme, pushing past the pandemic into ideas for a sustainable future.

🌏 News from elsewhere

Joe Biden wants to counter China in its own backyard. Just after the US president appeared to toughen his stance on Taiwan, Biden announced a new economic agreement with a dozen Asian and South Pacific countries to challenge China’s regional clout.

Klarna laid off 10% of its staff. The Swedish buy now, pay later firm is the latest tech outfit to make big cuts amid a market downturn and high inflation.

Europe will probably increase interest rates. European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde said the bank is likely to make the change by September, ending eight years of negative rates.

A Russian soldier was sentenced to life in prison for war crimes. Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old tank sergeant, shot and killed a Ukrainian civilian. Separately, a Russian diplomat to the United Nations resigned because he is “ashamed” of Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Broadcom is buying again. The Singapore-based chipmaker is reportedly acquiring the software firm VMware for $50 billion, which would be its third multibillion-dollar purchase in four years.

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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, with contributions from Amanda Shendruk and Annalisa Merelli.