Davos 2016: the five big themes

World Economic Forum to grapple with big issues from climate change to refugee crisis

The main hall in Davos. The great and good of the financial world are gathering in the Swiss resort of Davos for the annual World Economic Forum. Photograph: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

The main hall in Davos. The great and good of the financial world are gathering in the Swiss resort of Davos for the annual World Economic Forum. Photograph: Jason Alden/Bloomberg


The great and good of the financial world are gathering in the Swiss resort of Davos for the annual World Economic Forum.

Here are five of the top themes likely to dominate discussion both on and off the piste in the coming days.

1) Technology

Billed under the theme Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, this year’s World Economic Forum will look at the role played by technology, not only in everyday life, but also in the global economy.

In particular, delegates will examine how the world’s move towards greater automation will affect labour markets and patterns.

While senior figures from the financial world will still be ubiquitous in Davos, there will also be a healthy smattering of tech executives, including Google boss Eric Schmidt, Dell founder Michael Dell and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, reflecting the forum’s increasing tilt towards technology in recent years.

Executives will be vying for attention, with the HUBO robot on display in the main congress hall - epitomising the potential role played by new technologies in the world’s economy.

2) China and the global economy

Concerns about a possible slowdown in the world economy are at the front of people’s minds this year in Davos.

As delegates arrived at the snowy peaks on Tuesday they were welcomed by news that Chinese GDP growth slowed to 6.8 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Interview: Maurice levy, CEO, Publicis

Suzanne Lynch in Davos

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, US treasury secretary Jack Lew and ECB president Mario Draghi are among the heavy-hitters who will be giving their views on the global economy, with Draghi’s one-to-one interview on The Year Ahead: the Economic Outlook for the Euro Zone on Friday morning being one to watch.

Among the senior Chinese figures attending are vice-president Li Yuanchao, who is due to address the congress on Thursday afternoon, and Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba.

3) Iran and commodity prices

Iran may not be quite in from the cold following the historic lifting of Western sanctions against the Islamic Republic on Saturday, but rapid changes in the middle eastern power house are being closed watched by global leaders.

Following the attendance of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani at the World Economic Forum in 2014, Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif is attending this year.

He will be the star contributor to a panel discussion on Iran’s future on Wednesday and is due to meet US secretary of state John Kerry on Thursday. With the prospect of millions of barrels of crude oil coming onto an already oversupplied market place, the global economic community will be keen to hear about Iran’s next moves and their inevitable impact on oil prices.

4) Refugee crisis

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to cancel her usual January visit to Davos is an indication of how serious the refugee issue has become for Europe’s most important leader.

The economic impact of the crisis is likely to be a discussion point at Davos, with the IMF highlighting the issue in its updated global economic outlook report published on Tuesday, urging Europe to integrate migrants into the labour market.

The issue is likely to surface at a Friday morning panel debate featuring EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, former British labour politician David Miliband - now head of the International Rescue Committee, and Polish foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski.

NGO Medecins sans Frontieres, which has been at the forefront of the humanitarian response to the refugee crisis, will be attending the forum for the first time, while Queen Rania of Jordan is likely to update delegates on Jordan’s role as one of the main destinations for Syrian refugees.

The global security challenge, and how it feeds into perceptions of the refugee crisis, will also feature this week, with law and justice experts including US attorney general Loretta Lynch and Rob Wainwright of Europol contributing to a debate on cybercrime on Friday.

5) Climate change and climate justice

In recent years, Davos has become an important forum for policy-making on climate change. This year will be no different.

Just over a month after the Paris climate agreement, leaders on issues relating to climate change will be sharing their views on the next steps forward.

Former US vice-president Al Gore will be contributing to a number of panels, including a session on Decarbonising Economies on Thursday and Carbon-reduction Technologies on Friday, while climate change expert Lord Stern will also attend.

A number of celebrities will share their views on climate change and sustainable development, including actor Leonardo diCaprio and U2 frontman Bono.

There will be an effort to bring the debate on climate change to the global economic arena, with World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, UN general secretary Ban Ki-moon and Unilever chief executive Paul Polman scheduled to debate the sustainable development agenda on Thursday evening.