The World Economic Forum (WEF) held its annual meeting from 22-26 May this year, instead of at the usual time at the end of January, when the tourist resort is a fairytale with snow and ice, long moonlit nights, short sunny days, or perhaps more snowfall. Indoors, after a dip in the pool and a stint in the sauna, the world’s richest and most influential private and public sector movers and shakers would meet, including royals, movie stars and celebrities of all kinds, and some ‘ordinary’ people, too, researchers, journalists and civil society leaders, all with wishes to see and listen, and to be seen and heard.

Imran Khan and the Sharif brothers have earlier been at WEF events, focusing especially on business partnership and investment, but not this year. Besides, the new PM Shehbaz Sharif (70) had his hands full with more urgent matters, so he stayed at home. But along with the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari made his maiden visit to Davos. As PPP chairman, he would also be committed to the WEF political and social ideals of cooperation, dialogue and equality. How to reach those ideals, though, remains an ‘unfinished business’ for the young and old in Davos. But they all say they have the ideals and vision, at least for as long as the WEF meetings last, but not quite the tools. Earlier, they have spoken about the world’s ‘fourth industrial revolution’—when everything is connected to everything, and everybody must cooperate with everybody.

This time, the theme of the WEF meeting was ‘History at the Turning Point’; good and well, but a bit lofty, especially since climate change wasn’t quite at the top of the agenda, overshadowed by inflation and energy crises, the Russian War in Ukraine, and other European issues.

People enjoyed seeing the wild flowers and pine trees in Davos and the Swiss highlands in early summer, but it wasn’t quite like the winter event, so many just participated via Skype or such devices. The event was delayed because of the Corona pandemic, and perhaps some of those who were quite old, at least beyond mid-day’, as a good number of the participants at the WEF meetings are, preferred the safer digital version of the meeting. Besides, the world is in a gloomy place at the moment, with war in Europe, recession, inflation, staggering price increases, and so on, affecting poor people and poor countries more than others, as is always the case in times of crises, and perhaps putting more demands on the old, rich and powerful than they want to meet.

The WEF founder and executive chairman, Professor Klaus Schwab (84), who has been at the helm since WEF began in 1971, was asked by a journalist why Russia had not been invited to this year’s event, because without that key country behind many of the world’s current evils, indeed the war in Ukraine, present, it would be difficult to find solutions. Professor Schwab agreed to that criticism, although it would have been problematic to have Russian leaders in Davos this year, and many other important participants might have stayed away. Yet, he said that he expected Russia to return to the WEF meetings in future.

On the second day of the WEF Annual Meeting, George Soros (92), an American billionaire of Hungarian descent, was a popular key speaker, as he always is, perhaps much because of his socialist ideals, uncommon amongst ultra-capitalists like him. If it is something to go by, that old men often become cynical and pessimistic, Soros lived up to that because he painted a gloomy picture of the future, especially as regards geo-politics and international relations. The current Ukraine situation could escalate and even lead to a third world war, he warned.

Soros’ sensational views were interesting to listen to, but the more sober talks were more important in order to solve the issue. True, nobody knows how to end the Russian War in Ukraine, which is also a war with the West, and if somebody knows they don’t say it. It will influence Europe’s and the world’s future for the near future, even all future. China is on the way upwards; Russia will work with China, but not become too intimate because after all it only has a tenth of China’s population and its economy is quite small and not a dynamic economy.

Keeping the WEF raison d’être high, the message this year, too, was that the solutions to national and international problems can only be found through discussion and cooperation between the government, private sector, civil society, and others. It means that greater global cooperation is needed because all countries, including medium and smaller countries, such as Pakistan, depend on their solutions. In the meantime, they will be hard hit by what the big countries do, leading to high inflation, high oil prices, high food prices affecting ordinary people terribly, including hunger and malnutrition, and breakdown of social and economic fabrics.

Russia and Ukraine stand for a third of the world’s grain production, and the Russian blocking of Ukraine’s export through the Black Sea, must be lifted immediately to avoid increased starvation in the world. If the Ukraine storage capacity is not made available, notably by emptying the silos to give space for the new harvest, the crisis will have effects for several future years. When a top African Union (AU) delegation met with Russian President Putin last week, they left empty-handed.

After the two-year Corona pandemic, the world now experiences some economic growth, for example in France which had a five percent growth rate last year. The problem is inflation, not growth. The IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva spoke about focusing less on globalising profits and more on localising benefits for communities and countries, including a minimum tax to create greater fairness. She said that if we fragment the world, go backwards from globalisation, the benefits will be less for all. She also mentioned serious contraction in some countries, indeed in Russia and Ukraine, where it is now some forty percent, with spillover effects to many countries.

It was revealing that the IMF chief admitted that globalisation had not worked equally well for all, and that in particular poorer people and countries had benefitted less and changes must be made. China will be negatively affected by reduced globalisation, she said. However, in many fields reduced globalisation is important, for example as regards food security and energy. The overreliance on Russian oil and gas by Germany and other European countries has taught both sides that there must be more sober cooperation in future. In other fields, there should be more cooperation and regulations, such as in epidemic and pandemic control, and also control of multinationals and their paying-back to society—and indeed as for climate change. Francois Villeroy de Galhau, chief of the French Central Bank, said it clearly: those who are getting older should realise that growth is over, and those who are young, they should realise that growth is dangerous. That would be a good theme for the WEF meeting in January 2023 or the year after, because economists and politicians have never discussed that as a real requirement to realise a sustainable future. Now, the issue is getting urgent.