President Trump kicked off the 50th annual World Economic Forum, the same day his impeachment trial was to begin, by ignoring climate change, the issue that attendees declared the No. 1 danger facing the planet.
Instead, he focused on economic and trade policies during a 20-minute speech in Davos, Switzerland, saying he had created “a roaring geyser of opportunity” for investors and resurrected the American Dream. His only concrete contribution to solving the climate crisis was to announce that the U.S. would join the Trillion Trees Initiative, a reforestation effort that is being launched by the forum to help offset greenhouse gas emissions.
The four-day conference is expected to focus on ways to combat the impact of global warming after world and business leaders, asked before the meeting, chose various climate-related risks as nine of the top 10 dangers in the world today. The forum’s founder, Klaus Schwab, last month released an updated manifesto that called for companies to consider the needs of employees, environment and suppliers rather than simply focus on maximizing shareholder profits.
In his speech, Trump took a swipe at the “perennial prophets of doom,” by which he appeared to be referring both to those in favor of maintaining regulations to protect nature and to “radical socialists” who seek to tether entrepreneurial creativity. Before his speech, he told reporters, “I’m a big believer in the environment. The environment is very important.”
The Davos group and others have taken note of international efforts to hold global warming to the critical level of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030. According to the United Nations Environment Program, emissions must be reduced by 55% in the next decade in order for the Earth to have a two-thirds chance of holding that line.
“I’m a big believer in the environment. The environment is very important.”
Emissions data show “that we are on the brink of missing the 1.5 degree C target, thereby resulting in a future of serious climate change impacts,” said UNEP executive director Inger Andersen in a report today.
Statistics like those as well as widespread climate-related disasters last year, which was the second warmest year on record, have prompted some representatives of the global corporate community to reshuffle investment priorities.
For example, the Business Roundtable, an influential lobbying group representing some of America’s largest companies, said in a statement last August that corporations should go beyond advancing the interests of shareholders and steps to protect the environment, invest in their employees and be respectful of suppliers. Financial institutions like Black Rock and BNP Paribas have also taken steps to make sustainability and the environment priorities in their investment strategies.
Greta Thunberg, the teenage environmental activist from Sweden, who is also at the conference, followed Trump’s speech with a pointed critique the world’s continuing use of fossil fuels. Speaking in a panel discussion about an hour after Trump’s speech, Thunberg chided the Davos attendees, saying “Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour,” according to the New York Times.
- Trump’s speech was fashioned with an eye on the upcoming election and impeachment trial, as he cited an array of achievements, from the millions of jobs that have been created in the past three years and recently signed new trade agreements.