Davos Diary: Chilly reception for Trump’s ‘prophets of doom’ speech

Climate was theme at WEF, but did the Standard Life Aberdeen guy get the memo?

Klaus Schwab, the German engineer and economist, had a noble goal when he set up the World Economic Forum (WEF) conference in Davos 50 years ago: to change how money works from "shareholder capitalism", which is all about maximising profits, to "stakeholder capitalism", where corporations act as trustees of society.

Schwab has renewed the push this year, with the latest gathering themed “stakeholders for a cohesive and sustainable world”, as issues such as climate change, trade protectionism and slowing global growth hung over the forum in Europe’s highest town.

Some clearly didn’t get the memo.

"I unashamedly use it to meet clients. I think a lot of useful stuff is discussed [at Davos], but for me that's not what I've ever really been interested in," Martin Gilbert, the outgoing vice-chairman of UK investment giant Standard Life Aberdeen, told business news channel CNBC at the WEF on Tuesday.



His honesty was refreshing at a summit often criticised as a forum for empty virtue-signalling by business leaders who go back to their old ways of squeezing employees, customers and the world’s resources once they’ve dusted the Davos snow off their boots and returned home.

The conference’s organisers have promised to make this year’s event carbon neutral by using more sustainable materials, sourcing more local and plant-based food for the almost 3,000 participants, using a fleet of cars and buses that is 90 per cent electric or hybrid, and investing in projects that offset the emissions that it cannot eliminate.

The bulk of Trump's meandering – albeit scripted – address was taken up with something closer to his heart: himself

Many of the so-called 1 per cent attending the jamboree are making the job all the more difficult, with hundreds of fuel-guzzling private jets expected to fly participants in and out of Switzerland this week. Still, so-called sustainable aviation fuel – which has lower emissions than conventional jet fuel – is being made available to aircraft landing at Zurich airport, we’re told.

Second address

Donald Trump, whose Marine One helicopter touched down in Davos on Tuesday morning against the backdrop of the phrase "act on climate" carved into the snow, partly used his second address to the WEF since becoming US president to rail against environmental "prophets of doom".

But the bulk of his meandering – albeit scripted – 30-minute address was taken up with something closer to his heart: himself, focusing on economic and stock market achievements since coming to power.

It may go down well at Trump’s Keep America Great rallies as he canvasses support ahead of an election at the end of this year. But Trump should have been reminded by a folk song performed by a group of nine Swiss tenors in traditional dress just before he took to the lectern that he was in different surroundings. His address was met with almost total silence from the audience.

Tough crowd.