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Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum

We Can Still Create Miracles

In a world rife with polarisation, fragile economic prospects and looming threats like misinformation, climate crises and leadership uncertainties, there are a few noteworthy achievements that hint at our ability to avert ominous scenarios

Remaining optimistic can be challenging in the face of grim global forecasts, such as those outlined in reports like the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024. However, in this interview with World Economic Forum President Børge Brende we uncover both significant challenges and encouraging signals. This reveals that global leaders are still mustering the strength to negotiate international agreements that will empower us to confront the multitude of threats on the horizon.

In light of your recent report, in which a majority of respondents anticipate a negative outlook for the world over the coming two years, with expectations of further deterioration over the next decade, what factors contribute to your optimistic perspective amid this prevailing sentiment?

— The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024 warns of a landscape in which progress on issues like the environment and global economy is threatened by growing polarisation. Two-thirds of the global experts surveyed by the Forum anticipate a multipolar or fragmented world taking shape over the coming decade.

Indeed, we are already seeing signs of growing division. Almost 3,000 trade restrictions were imposed last year—nearly three times the number imposed in 2019. The International Monetary Fund has warned of the consequences of fragmentation to the global economy—a cost of as much as 7%.

Despite this sobering picture, I am optimistic that countries can come together on critical issues because we have seen it happen over the past year.

Notably, for instance, leaders agreed at the G20 Summit in India on a joint declaration addressing commitments on climate financing, global debt, the reform of institutions like the World Bank and a new “green development pact”.

Leaders from over 190 countries also made a historic commitment at the UN Climate Conference (COP28) to transitioning away from fossil fuels. These are all positive indicators.

In this pivotal global election year, the spotlight is on misinformation and disinformation as significant short-term risks. Yet, reflecting on the past five to six years, what are the discernible risks associated with the political decisions that have been made, and how might they shape our trajectory in this year of widespread elections worldwide?

— The number one concern over the coming two years, according to participants in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Perception Survey, is misinformation and disinformation.

The rise of misinformation and disinformation is all the more concerning because three billion people in approximately 40 countries are expected to head to the polls to vote this year.

New technologies, such as AI, can add to the challenge by creating and spreading false information. But these same digital tools can help leaders and civil society organisations identify and prevent corrupt and disruptive behaviour.

Here, the World Economic Forum’s Global Coalition for Digital Safety is serving as a public-private platform for multi stakeholder cooperation. The coalition is bringing together stakeholders to address harmful digital content and conduct, and last year, as a first step, it released a toolkit for identifying online threats.

In the eyes of many experts, the upcoming U.S. elections are perceived as harbouring significant risks for our global landscape. Traditionally, concerns have centred around the preservation of democracy, but attention is now pivoting towards the potential repercussions of the elections in the United States. How did this shift come about and, from your perspective, what are the best and worst conceivable outcomes of these elections in terms of the economy?

— What has been concerning, broadly, has been growing polarisation within countries around the world, including the United States. The only way to address complex challenges facing our economies and societies is for leaders to work together in forging solutions.

When it comes to the U.S. economy, leaders in the United States will need to cooperate on navigating a very promising, but also very fragile, outlook.

The economy has shown signs of strength in recent years, but there are some challenges ahead as monetary and fiscal policies are tightened. The labour market added 353,000 jobs in January—better than most people had expected. But the forecast is for 2.1% growth this year, down from 2.5% last year. And inflation remains stubbornly high at 3.1%.

This is an enormously complex situation for leaders to navigate. So far, the Federal Reserve has been effectively walking a fine line, raising the federal funds rate 11 times between March 2022 and July 2023, but managing to do so—so far—without triggering a recession.

The best hope of achieving a soft landing and delivering growth ahead is having leaders from both parties, and from the public and private sectors, work together.

Another significant challenge lies in envisaging a world without clear leadership, contrasting with the perceived advantages of a multipolar world. In the context of global economic prospects, how do you anticipate the varying political outcomes of the noted election processes might shape the landscape?

— One key conclusion from the Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos this year was that leaders need to practice “coopetition”—namely cooperating with one another even if they are competing.

What this means in practical terms is that leaders will need to find ways to cooperate on issues like climate action, strengthening the global economy and effectively regulating frontier technologies even if they don’t see eye to eye on everything else.

Thankfully, we know this is possible.

I remain optimistic about global collaboration, following achievements like the G20 Summit’s joint declaration and COP28’s historic commitment to transition away from fossil fuels

Firstly, we have seen it in the private sector, where companies battle for market share on the one hand, but work together to address shared challenges like climate change on the other. For example, the WEF’s First Movers Coalition brings together over 90 stakeholders—including competitors like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, and Boeing and Airbus—to build market demand for green technologies.

Secondly, we have seen it happen between governments. Last November at COP28 in Dubai, the U.S. and China released a statement reaffirming their “commitment to work jointly and together with other countries to address the climate crisis”. The two countries, despite growing competition, said that they would also stepup coordination on curbing methane emissions and work together to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

One of the key messages of your current report highlights the notion that people are crafting their own narratives, with a range of possible outcomes, some of which are more favourable. Reflecting on the past, which specific moments would you identify as exemplifying the transformative power of individuals overcoming significant challenges?

— Ahead of the G20 summit in New Delhi in November, there was a widespread assumption that geopolitical divides would prevent parties from coming together on issuing a joint declaration. Yet, thankfully, diplomatic efforts managed to bring countries together to reach consensus on a declaration.

The United Nations noted that the achievement was particularly important, given the declaration’s commitment to accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a time when urgent progress is needed.

On a contrasting note, the most recent World Economic Outlook offers a glimmer of more positive news. How closely do these findings align with some of the conclusions drawn in your own research?

— The latest World Economic Outlook from the International Monetary Fund projects 3.1% growth in 2024— 0.2 percentage points higher than previous projections in October 2023. At the same time, inflation is falling faster than expected in many economies—global headline inflation is expected to fall from 6.8% last year to 5.8% this year.

This is a very welcome, but fragile, picture. One of the top concerns many people have is that geoeconomic fragmentation, including rising levels of trade restrictions, are weighing heavily on growth.

Indeed, the Forum’s January 2024 Chief Economists Outlook—a survey of 30 chief economists—shows concern over the impact of fragmentation. Almost 70 per cent of chief economists expect the pace of geoeconomic fragmentation to accelerate this year. The majority of respondents expect it to stoke volatility in the global economy (87%) and in stock markets (80%).

A pivotal question that emerged at Davos was how to rebuild trust. To what degree is trust interconnected with GDP growth, and what would you identify as the primary crucial component, beyond economic considerations, for rebuilding trust?

— Today’s most urgent challenges—a warming planet, a weakening economy, deteriorating global security—are not bound by borders. They can only be solved through global cooperation. Rebuilding trust is a vital ingredient in strengthening that cooperation.

But trust has been in decline because many people do not see the benefit of global collaboration.

To take one example: the BioNTech/ Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine was a marvel of cooperation and trade—it is made up of 280 components from 19 different countries. Yet, within the first year of distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, competition over supply meant that high-income countries were able to achieve vaccination rates of 75 to 80%, whereas low-income countries vaccinated less than 10% of their populations.

In order to rebuild trust in global cooperation, we need to ensure that results deliver equitable gains.

This is why expanding dialogue between the Global South and Global North is vital. Having the African Union admitted last year as a member of the G20 was such an important achievement in this regard.

BALANCE

In order to restore confidence in global cooperation, it is essential to guarantee that the outcomes result in fair and balanced benefits

ACHIEVEMENT

Expanding dialogue between the Global South and Global North is crucial, underscored by the significant achievement of the African Union’s admission to the G20 last year

FRAGMENTATION

A major concern for many is that geoeconomic fragmentation, marked by increasing trade restrictions, is impacting economic growth significantly

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