Davos says it is focusing on the climate crisis, but its billionaires and world leaders are still arriving on private jets

Davos private jets

  • The World Economic Forum made the idea of a sustainable world the key theme for this year's event Davos, Switzerland.
  • But the financial, political, and celebrity elites that travel to the event will largely continue to travel by private jet, which is hugely damaging to the environment.
  • The WEF says it offsets the carbon emitted from flights by funding emissions-reducing projects, but this practice does not stop the carbon entering the atmosphere.
  • Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg will address the forum again, after she last year stunned global leaders by saying that many of them likely profit from sacrificing the environment.
  • The WEF says it has taken other steps, including electric cars, monitoring food waste, and using renewable electricity.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The World Economic Forum said on Monday, one day before the event kicks off in Davos, Switzerland, that: "The climate crisis is going to be one of the dominant themes this week."

Its website prominently features Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who is due to appear this year after criticising world leaders and urged them to act at last year's event.

"How to Save the Planet" is one of the seven "key" themes up for discussion.

And the overall theme of this year's event is "Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World."

But as the world's financial elite, political leaders, and celebrities descend on the small town, the question is whether their transport choices can at all work with what the event - and many of those leaders - say they want to achieve for the planet.

Davos planes

The World Economic Forum recorded more than 600 plane journeys that can be attributed to Davos in 2019 - a figure that does not "take into account public figures such as presidents and prime ministers."

"There were around 60 of these but they tend to use military planes and land at a nearby military base, which makes it impossible to get flight numbers," Davos said.

Aviation is expected to contribute to 22% of the world's carbon emissions by 2050 .

World leaders, business leaders, and world-famous personalities are largely unlikely to copy Thunberg and take the train, as she did last year.

Greta Thunberg Davos

That lack of willingness to make changes was condemned by Thunberg at last year's event, when she stunned the world's most powerful people at a lunch by pointing at their power to help fix the crisis.

"Some people say that the climate crisis is something that we will have created, but that is not true, because if everyone is guilty then no one is to blame. And someone is to blame," she said.

"Some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people."

The World Economic Forum says its offsetting the carbon from flights, and taking other environmental steps

The WEF said it is "constantly looking to reduce our carbon footprint."

Doing so involves "offering incentives to participants who come by train" and "includes offsetting all air travel by purchasing carbon credits" for both private and commercial flights, funding emissions-reducing projects.

CNN reported that the cars that will bring VIPs around the town are now 88% electric or hybrid, and that the event is monitoring food waste, eliminating single-use plastics, and refurbished its main conference center to use renewable energy.

And the WEF says it uses "locally-sourced food suppliers, introducing alternative sources of protein to reduce meat consumption, sourcing 100% renewable electricity, and reducing or eliminating the use of materials that cannot easily be recycled or re-used, such as carpets and introducing more electric vehicles."

The Davos Congress Centre, center, is prepared for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. The 50th annual meeting of the forum will take place in Davos from Jan. 20 until Jan. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

And Davos disputed reports that 1,500 jets flew to the conference in 2019, and said that figure recorded some jets twice, masking an actual a 20% reduction in the number of jets between 2018 and 2019.

But Lucy Gilliam, a shipping specialist at European clean transport nonprofit Transport & Environment, criticized the idea of carbon offsetting to CNN.

"You're not actually removing the emissions that have been created by that plane," she said. "The plane will have burned that fuel, and the carbon has been released into the atmosphere."

Fridays for Future

Thunberg marched in Switzerland with 10,000 protesters on Friday before her journey to Davos, warning: "You have not seen anything yet."

This year's meeting - which takes place against the backdrop of devastating fires in Australia, US President Donald Trump formally announcing he is withdrawing his country from the Paris Climate Agreement, and increasingly dire warnings about the future of our planet - will be her latest effort to convince world leaders.

"So, we are now in a new year and we have entered a new decade and so far, during this decade, we have seen no sign whatsoever that real climate action is coming and that has to change," Thunberg said on Friday.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland January 25, 2018 REUTERS/Carlos Barria

"To the world leaders and those in power, I would like to say that you have not seen anything yet. You have not seen the last of us, we can assure you that. And that is the message that we will bring to the World Economic Forum in Davos next week."

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