UPDATE FROM

WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM 2021

This year’s edition of World Economic Forum in Davos was very different from previous years. The political line-up was stellar, as usual. Key note addresses were made by Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Ursula von der Leyen and many others. This year’s theme was “The great reset”, but the underlying tone was rather “Can we regain trust in our ability to influence our future?”

The EU made an effort to project that they have a progressive agenda with regards to protecting the environment, democratic institutions and creating a global rule-book for the digital tech industries. 37% of the EU budget is now earmarked to projects that promote “The Green Deal”. There is much focus on protecting not only the environment but also biodiversity. Hydrogen seems to be the chosen panacea. The Chinese spoke a lot about a rule based multilateral world, but also committed to 100% climate neutrality by year 2060. Putin was half an hour late, as was president Trump last year, and spoke about the dominance of US and Chinese tech giants. John Kerry, the US government’s point person on climate, has attended all previous Davos meetings that I have been to, but he has been on the fringes. Now he was center stage. My personal favorites to listen to are prime minister Suga of Japan and president Moon Jae-in of Korea who both provide slightly different perspectives.   

The World Economic Forum management further developed their concept of what they call “stakeholder capitalism”. It is a complex discussion on how we can make our democratic market based systems more inclusive, ensuring that also wider societal challenges and interests are being addressed. The ultimate purpose of the corporation is up for discussion. There is no doubt an urgency in rallying support for rule based global trading systems, global harmonization of tax regimes and general support for good governance based on democratically supervised institutions. A global carbon tax was a recurring topic for discussion, which previously has been a taboo subject. Despite several finance ministers and central bankers contributing to the meetings, macro-economic theory seems to be in a flux and the world is now in uncharted territory – but seemingly, many companies are doing very well. Interestingly Brexit was hardly mentioned at all – obviously the world just wants to get on with life.

Within the Teams format the World Economic Forum also arranged about a hundred smaller topical working groups. The fact that they managed to co-ordinate about 3,000 individual attendees is testament to how proficient we have all become in working on-line. It was striking that about 75% of the seminars had some kind of environmental angle. “Sustainability” is now what “digital” was 15 years ago.

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation. Xi Jinping, President of the People's Republic of China.

For natural reasons, I was involved in some of the logistics seminars, where the main themes continue to be “transparency”, “optimization” and “collaboration across value chains”. Covid-19 vaccine distribution was discussed at length. It seems that we have sufficient global distribution capacity, except for cold chain availability in the remotest locations in Africa and Pacific. Administrating the vaccinations as such, however, seems to be a very different matter.

In light of corona-disruptions manufacturers are starting to take supply chains seriously, demanding much more from transport providers. The large forwarders are scrambling and seeing huge opportunities. There is a push from cargo owners to support small suppliers and a general call to just get started – rather than waiting for the larger systems, solutions or strategies. Last mile delivery is the big challenge, but also a space where it seems that nobody is making any money. Maybe a sign of the times was that there were no seminars explicitly addressing mainstream fossil energy and fuels.

In previous years the most valuable aspect of the Davos-meetings has been the one-on-ones with customers, suppliers and other players in our markets. These interactions did not take place this year, which made the week very different. Previous years the week in Davos has meant an intensive program from the very early morning to well past midnight for five strait days. The week has been packed with new views, perspectives and relationships – but not this year. The organizers are planning for a physical meeting in Singapore in August  instead.

We have to be humble to the fact that the world is both diverse and dynamic. There is no general consensus as to what the solutions are, sometimes not even on what the challenges are. Especially in these days the importance of forums that gather initiated conversations and are fact-based and genuine can’t be overestimated. Let us hope and pray that Covid-19 will lose its grip of the world, now that the vaccines are on their way.

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