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Enough talking — it's time to act

May 26, 2022

Never has the mood at the World Economic Forum in Davos been so low. The world has reached a crossroads, says DW's Manuela Kasper-Claridge. But merely discussing crises doesn't help. We must take action, she argues.

2022 Davos meeting
The international community is confonted with a host of grim problems Image: Jürgen Schwenkenbecher/picture alliance

War, recession, hunger, energy shortages. The topics of discussion at this year's World Economic Forum offer little occasion for optimism. The world has reached a crossroads: politically, economically and socially.

The planet's most powerful people, meeting at Davos in Switzerland, agree on that. But crises cannot be solved just through talk. Of course, we need verbal exchanges between politicians, economists and civil society. It is good that we are talking. But WEF22 must also be a launchpad for action. Here are some of the areas where that is most urgently needed:

No.1, wheat must once again be exported from Ukraine. There are 20 million tons of wheat rotting right now in Ukrainian storehouses. The grain is needed to feed the world's population.

Manuela Kasper-Claridge
DW Editor-in-Chief Manuela Kasper-ClaridgeImage: DW/R. Oberhammer

Ukraine provides around 28% of the world's wheat and, even under the difficult circumstances of the current situation, the next harvest is just around the corner. Additional trains and trucks must be provided to transport it. And the Russian president needs to allow these exports to go ahead. That means greater pressure must be applied to both him and his regime. If this fails, millions of people worldwide will suffer starvation or even die.

Ratcheting up the pressure

No.2, sanctions against Russia must enter a new phase. Russian exports need to be massively hampered. It should not be possible for the country to carry on its war of aggression while benefiting from rising energy prices.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck plans to cap the oil price by encouraging oil-consuming countries to form a cartel. This will hit Russia hard. It is a good idea. There is, after all, no issue with supply, there is simply a problem with distribution.

Efforts must be undertaken immediately to work out how to implement this. No further lengthy debates, please.

Ukraine dominates World Economic Forum

Is the West prepared?

No. 3, the EU needs an emergency plan in place well before the winter sets in. The war in Ukraine has caused already extremely high energy prices worldwide to rise even more.

More and more people can no longer afford to pay their electricity bills. Companies are having to curb production. Europe could face blackouts this winter. Long, widespread power cuts would affect all critical infrastructure — health care, telecommunications, water supply, to name just a few.

No. 4, a potential recession has to be warded off by shrewd state intervention. The Davos meeting saw IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva shock participants by reporting that the growth prospects for 143 of its member states had been downgraded.

Less growth means less well-being, and the development is being caused by Russia's war in Ukraine, the US dollar getting stronger and stronger and China's slowing economic performance due to pandemic-related lockdowns.

So, where do we go from here? The worst we could do would be to wait for a recession — we need to take countermeasures now. We could lower taxes, initiate subsidized climate protection programs and invest more in digital infrastructure. Saving money should not be our strategy right now.

Generous help

No. 5, a Marshall Plan for Ukraine has to be implemented without delay. Towns and villages have been destroyed, and the same goes for vital infrastructure.

No one knows how long the war will continue. But the future of Ukraine has to be secured now with pledges for investments in reconstruction, including the building of homes and traffic routes. Ukrainians need this help now, they need to know they have a future.

Their fight against the Russian aggressor is also a fight in support of Western values, democracy and sovereign states' right to self-determination.

It's helpful that the WEF meeting addressed some crisis scenarios. Politicians, entrepreneurs and other players are in a position to act fast now. If they don't, the world will plunge into its most severe crisis since World War II.

President Zelenskyy speaks to WEF

This opinion piece was originally published in German.