An exceptionally mild and barren start to winter in the Swiss Alps is helping to fuel growing concern about climate change at the annual World Economic Forum meeting beginning today.
"The year 2006 saw a qualitative change in public perception of the issue," commented Forum executive director Klaus Schwab, underlining growing pressure on the Forum's 1,000 corporate members.
Fresh snowfall was due to restore seasonal picture postcard scenery by the time more than 2,000 business and political leaders gather in Davos, but the semblance of winter normality is unlikely to dampen talk about global warming.
A survey of participants found that they now rate environmental protection as the second most important priority behind economic growth, ahead of tackling poverty, wars or terrorism, according to the Forum.
About 20 percent of the business and political chiefs polled, compared to just nine percent last year, rated "protecting the environment" as a main priority for the world in the "Voice of the Leaders" opinion poll by Gallup International.
"What is interesting is to see how climate change is taking on more and more importance, with twice as many leaders questioned placing it as the most important issue," said Forum managing director Peter Torreele.
A UN conference in Nairobi last November postponed until next year attempts to draw up the next round of pollution-cutting pledges due from 2012, which are meant to draw in developing nations for the first time including China.
Climate change is one of the topics German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who took over the presidency of the G8 group of industrialized countries this year, wants to raise in her opening speech, her spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said.
One of the last speakers on the Davos agenda, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is also promising on the Forum's website to revive an issue he broached in Davos two years ago.
"Talks between leaders could help outline elements of a future post Kyoto climate framework that could then be agreed at the German G8," Blair said.
The current UN climate change convention requires industrialized countries to trim outputs of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases that trap solar heat, unbalancing the planet's delicate climate system.
The additional Kyoto Protocol, which came into force last year, set compulsory targets for the next five years, but it has been rejected by the United States and Australia.
Blair made a similar appeal two years ago at Davos at the start his annual presidency of the G8, outlining a controversial, technological approach to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions without stifling economic activity.
That year a report by a Forum think-tank accused world leaders of failing to keep promises to tackle climate change and said they must engage the corporate world far more.
Schwab said last week that about 20 countries had asked the forum to arrange meetings with business chiefs to discuss global warming over the coming days.
The Forum is one of the organizations that acts as a bridge with industry, helping corporate leaders to feed in proposals to cut emissions, under a process launched at the G8's Gleneagles summit in 2005.
The agenda in Davos includes debates on the potential of renewable energy sources, nuclear power, the economics of green technologies and a global carbon tax.
Rising oil and gas prices generated partly by obstacles to supply have also fuelled interest in alternative energy sources over the past year. Several oil and gas chiefs, as well as energy ministers, are due to discuss energy security in Davos.
(China Daily via agencies January 24, 2007)