Davos and Global Warming

It is not surprising that the main topic of conversation here at the World Economic Forum in Davos is the economic downturn. But that is not all people are talking about. Global warming has become a central theme here this year.

I came here two years ago, and while there were many panels on climate change then, it was still considered a sort of add-on. This time around, creating a new energy future is increasingly viewed as a key solution for confronting the recession, not just global warming.

Yesterday, I heard Chinese Premiere Wen Jiabao give a sober assessment of the Chinese economy and what the government is trying to do to address the downturn. Premiere Wen is committed to an economic future that addresses climate, energy, and environmental issues.

He spoke about the need to advance clean air technologies and capture and sequester carbon dioxide pollution. And like the U.S. stimulus package that just passed the House of Representatives, Premiere Wen said China has energy efficiency and environmental protections embedded in its economic stimulus package.

The cynical rule of thumb is that the will to strengthen environmental protections dissolves as soon as the economy hits a downturn. The conversations at Davos reveal a far more complex reality.

Yes, passing binding limits on global warming pollution will be challenging now that national governments must tend to urgent financial needs. But leaders are beginning to recognize that the path to economic stability leads right through clean energy investments. Global warming solutions are a fast-track, not a detour, to prosperity.

When Davos founder Klaus Schwab introduced both Premiere Wen and Russian President Vladimir Putin, he addressed climate change explicitly. To me, it was yet another signal that economic health, climate stability, and world leadership are inextricably linked.