Donald Trump vs. Greta Thunberg: Davos prepares for climate crisis showdown

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg watches as U.S. President Donald Trump enters the United Nations to speak with reporters in a still image from video taken in New York City, U.S. September 23, 2019.

REUTERS | Andrew Hofstetter | File Photo

President Donald Trump and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg will both attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) this week, stirring up a heightened sense of intrigue in the Swiss Alpine town of Davos.

The 50th edition of the annual January get-together — which draws policymakers and business leaders from around the world — is scheduled to focus on the intensifying climate crisis.

Trump is set to travel to the picturesque ski resort after skipping the conference last year due to the partial government shutdown. The U.S. president, who is likely to be one of the star attractions of the event, has often expressed skepticism about the scale of the climate crisis.

Since coming to power in 2016, Trump has pulled the U.S. — one of the world’s leading carbon emitters — out of the Paris Agreement and sought to roll back over 80 environmental regulations.

His much-anticipated return to Davos will mark the first time he has attended the same event as Thunberg since the pair briefly crossed paths at the United Nations (UN) climate change summit in New York last year.

In a widely-shared video on social media, Thunberg could be seen glaring at Trump as he addressed reporters.

What’s the context?

The 17-year-old, who was catapulted to fame for skipping school every Friday to hold a weekly vigil outside Swedish parliament in 2018, was recently named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019.

She was recognized for the award after sparking an international wave of school strikes — also known as “Fridays for Future.” Millions of children took part in rallies around the world to protest against political inaction over climate change.

“So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old-fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!” Trump tweeted on Dec. 12.

In an interview with BBC radio’s Today program late last month, Thunberg said attacks from the U.S. president and others should be seen as “proof that we are actually doing something and that they see us as some kind of threat.”

When asked what she would have said to the U.S. president if they had spoken at the UN climate change summit, Thunberg replied: “Honestly, I don’t think I would have said anything because obviously he’s not listening to scientists and experts, so why would he listen to me?”

“So, I probably wouldn’t have said anything, I wouldn’t have wasted my time.”

‘We absolutely need to do things differently’

Thunberg has reportedly pledged to tell global leaders in attendance at Davos to “immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels.”

She is scheduled to deliver the opening remarks of a panel session entitled “Averting a Climate Apocalypse” on Tuesday.

The WEF’s theme, officially recognized as “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World,” follows a year which reportedly saw the hottest year on record for the world’s oceans, the second-hottest year for global average temperatures and wildfires from the U.S. to the Amazon to Australia.

A hotel employee checks a bottle of champagne as he stands on the snow covered bar terrace of the InterContinental Hotel Davos

Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The event, which is often criticized for being out of touch with the real world, has said it aims to assist governments and international institutions in tracking progress toward the Paris Agreement and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“I think we absolutely need to do things differently. We are not going to get anywhere by just carrying on doing what we used to do,” Emily Farnworth, head of climate initiatives at WEF, told CNBC on Wednesday.

“I think this pressure from young activists in really keeping a spotlight on where some of these problems lie is really important and having companies pushing to demonstrate how they can do things differently just helps to move things in the right direction,” she added.

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