In a special address at the World Economic Forum event, which was to physically happen in the Swiss ski resort town of Davos, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said,
‘Global links and global commitments mean we have to have an interest in how the rest of the world is faring.’ In his own special address at the week-long virtual event, French President Emmanuel Macron said the economy of tomorrow is going to have to think about innovation and humanity.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said, ‘We must learn from this crisis. We have to change the way we live and do business to be able to keep what we value and hold dear.’
Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, also addressed the summit and suggested that ‘the task is not to return the world to where it was when the pandemic struck, but to forge a new path and a new design.’
The event also hosted 61 top business leaders globally, including Mukesh Ambani and Anand Mahindra from India, announcing their commitment to the Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics, a set of environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics and disclosures.
The world leaders called for greater collaboration and issued warnings of the perils awaiting if we do not.
European Commission President von der Leyen called for a ‘Paris-style agreement for biodiversity’, laying out in stark terms the economic and social risks of failing to protect a high-functioning biodiverse ecosystem.
She warned that issues, ranging from climate change and the pandemic to the lack of social media governance, pose a challenge to democracy, showing the ‘limitations of the old ways of working’.
She said the global push to create a vaccine, something that was achieved in ten months rather than over several years, revealed what can happen if resources are pooled, expertise is shared, manufacturers work together and the government finances.
The European Commission president urged greater collaboration, arguing that we need to understand that ‘it is not a weakness to reach and help each other, but strength.’ Merkel talked about how the pandemic has left ‘deep imprints on economies and our societies,’ and said it will ‘determine how we live and do business in the next few years.’ She also talked about multilateralism and collaboration, arguing that the pandemic has shown ‘how much we are interlinked, how globally interdependent
‘This is the hour of multilateralism. Development cooperation is in our national interest,’ she said while calling for greater transparency in global relations and better supporting developing nations.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the human condition is vulnerable and the pandemic has shown that the ‘capitalist model can no longer work‘.
He suggested, ‘We cannot build anything without reaping the benefits and learning the lessons of COVID-19. You cannot think the economy without thinking about human beings.’ He emphasised it will only be possible to address the pandemic with an economy that fights inequality.
The French president said that the economy of tomorrow, in addition to considering innovation and humanity, would have to build competitiveness while also fighting climate change and reducing CO2 emissions.
He urged companies to play a role in fighting inequality in society and to take responsibility for mitigating the effects of climate change and stressed how French businesses are already working hard to establish clear ESG metrics.
Earlier in the day, South African President Cyril M. Ramaphosa said in his special address that the economic challenges presented by COVID-19 had sped up the process of restructuring his country’s economy.
‘The issue of collaboration, of working cohesively, has underpinned the plan,’ he said.
He said the people rather than COVID-19 have created the challenges now faced, perhaps exemplified in the over-ordering of vaccines by wealthier nations leaving poorer countries and their populations facing shortages.
He was, however, positive about a future collaboration among African countries, describing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as ‘a revolutionary, sea change initiative … possibly the most important initiative the African continent has undertaken.’ He called on countries that have bought up large supplies of vaccines for COVID-19 to release the excess.
John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), warned of a second aggressive wave of COVID-19 in the region and underlining the South African president’s comments, said:
‘We as a continent must recognize that vaccines will not be here when we want them so we must focus on the public health measures that we know work while we are waiting.’