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A chilly mood as Davos gets underway

Andreas Becker (Davos) / sgbJanuary 21, 2015

The 45th World Economic Forum has now begun in the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos. Despite signs the world economy may be improving, the four-day event is this year marked by great economic and political uncertainty.

Schweiz Weltwirtschaftsforum in Davos 2015 Logo
Image: WEF

Around 2,500 participants are in Davos, Switzerland, for the 2015 World Economic Forum. Among them are hundreds of top executives and high-level officials from 140 countries.

This year's program covers "all the major issues on the global agenda, on the regional agendas and on the industry agendas," WEF founder and chairman Klaus Schwab said in his welcome speech.

The 45th Forum is taking place in uncertain times. Terrorism, regional conflict and the gloomy economic outlook have put a damper on the mood. This can be seen in the results of the annual Global CEO Survey, which auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers announced at the start of the WEF.

Send in the frowns

The 1,300 business leaders from 77 countries surveyed are more pessimistic than they have been in a long time. Worldwide, only about a third of respondents (37 percent) expect a recovery in the global economy this year. The percentage of executives who expect things to get worse has doubled to nearly 20 percent.

The mood in Europe is especially bad, where only 16 percent think the economy will pick up. In contrast, Asian CEOs were significantly more optimistic (45 percent).

Schwab hopes the forum can build trust and confidence in the face of this uncertainty. "We do not just want to define the issues," he told participants. "With the help of all your collective brains, we want to help to create solutions."

The theme of this year's Forum is "The new global context." The organizers are continuing the tradition of choosing a motto that encompasses nearly every topic of discussion. Violent Islamic fanaticism, collapsing oil prices, conflict between Russia and Ukraine, a possible escalation of the euro debt crisis, climate change and poverty alleviation are among the most pressing issues.

Boxed in

Only days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, thousands of soldiers and police are in Davos to protect the participants, including more than 40 heads of state and party leaders.

Shigeru Ban
Architect Shigeru Ban creates temporary structures of cardboard that can be installed quickly when disaster strikesImage: Reuters

As the WEF began, Hilde Schwab, Klaus' wife and head of the Schwab Foundation, presented this year's Crystal Awards to three artists "who have used their art to improve the state of the world." The recipients were Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, Beninese-French musician Angélique Kidjo and Japanese architect Shigeru Ban.

Ban, winner of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize last year, said architects often worked for "priviledged people who have money and power."

"Because power and money are invisible, they hire us to visualize their power and money through monumental architecture," he said. "I believe that our experience and knowledge as architects should equally be used for victims of natural disasters who have lost their homes."

Ban is known above all for his designs made of paper and cardboard tubes. The Voluntary Architects' Network, an NGO he founded, quickly erects temporary paper-based structures, including bridges and schools, as part of post-disaster relief efforts.