DAVOS, Switzerland -- German Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed hopes Thursday for global cooperation on climate change, hunger and war, while dozens of climate activists demonstrated in the Swiss town of Davos as a meeting of global elites ended with many words but little concrete action to solve the world's most pressing crises.
The German leader ratcheted up his criticism of Moscow's military onslaught in Ukraine during a speech on the last day of the World Economic Forum's annual gathering. He said Russian President Vladimir Putin "wants to return to a world order in which the strongest dictate what is right, in which freedom, sovereignty and self-determination are not.”
Voicing hopes for countries to work together on shared crises, Scholz said today’s world is no longer bipolar as it was during the Cold War era — when United States and the Soviet Union dominated geopolitics.
“If some want to take us back to the past of nationalism, imperialism and war, our answer is ‘not with us.’ We stand for the future," he said in the final major address of this week's Davos event. "When we realize that our world is becoming multipolar, then that must spur us on to even more multilateralism, to even more international cooperation.”
As he spoke, about 50 young people protested across town, with banners that read “Cut the (BS)!” and “There is no Planet B” — adding a coda of condemnation to the gathering of elites in Davos that is often derided for being more about talk, business and relationship-building than action. Forum organizers reject such claims, insisting they want to improve the state of the world by drawing in decision-makers.
The gathering in the Swiss Alps — twice suspended over the COVID-19 pandemic — has been overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, rising food and fuel prices, and signs that governments aren't doing enough to fight global warming. That has doused many moods in the face of a can-do spirit by many innovators and entrepreneurs at the event.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and others made the journey or joined by video link to drum up support for their country’s grueling and uncertain campaign to oust Russian forces.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign has drawn international scorn and unsettled his allies, and as a result, Russian business and government envoys who have been staples at Davos since the end of the Soviet Union weren’t invited this year.
Scholz reiterated his conviction that Putin will not win the war, saying the Russian leader “has already failed to achieve all his strategic goals.” He noted that “a capture of all of Ukraine by Russia seems further away today than it did at the beginning of the war."
Kuleba voiced little hope that the war could come to a negotiated end, or even a pause, anytime soon.
“The moment Russia will agree to a cease-fire will be the moment it will be one step away from losing the war,” he told reporters late Wednesday. “They (the Russians) will agree to a cease-fire with only one purpose: to save themselves from losing the war. Until then, this war will continue.”
Kuleba has pressed for Western powers to supply Ukraine with weapons like multiple-launch rocket systems and pointed to a “saga” about obtaining Gepard tanks from Germany, among other things his government has discussed with Berlin.
“We clearly understand that Germany will not be a country that will lead the process of supplying Ukraine with heavy weapons we need,” Kuleba said. “Let's make it clear: If we don't get heavy weapons, we get killed.”
The upshot of Ukraine’s efforts is to rally countries around a budding democracy with ambitions to join the European Union — the free-world and free-market club — in the face of an onslaught by a Russian regime that clamps down on dissent and centralizes power in one man: Putin.
Also on many minds in Davos was the deadly school shooting in Texas. More broadly, battles against global warming, a food crisis, and cyberattacks by hackers from Russia and beyond have exposed how progressive leaders from civil society, corporations and government have struggled to cope with simultaneous crises.
Many touched on the need to find solutions to the blockade of Ukrainian port s, preventing its critical stocks of wheat, barley and sunflower oil from getting to the world and threatening food insecurity in countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The European Union and United States have accused Russia of using food supplies as a weapon and say there have been talks of opening secure shipping corridors.
Russian officials are blaming Western sanctions or Ukrainian mines in the sea.
“This food crisis is real, and we must find solutions,” World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said on a trade panel Wednesday.
Davos organizers touted over 450 sessions bringing together more than 2,500 people, including 50 heads of state. Many of the achievements to emerge were piecemeal, such as announcements that more countries would join the First Movers Coalition, which aims to decarbonize the heavy industry and transport sectors. Other initiatives were announced in areas like energy, health, inclusion, education and economic transformation.
Some sought to get their messages across in Davos and said success doing that would suffice for now as they work toward concrete results.
“What I’m getting from here is this commitment in our moving to nature, and I think the trend of focus on only climate change is no longer there," said Elizabeth Mrema of Tanzania, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, which aims to protect plants and animals. "To me, that is a major achievement.”
AP reporters Peter Prengaman and Kelvin Chan in Davos and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed.