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Greta Thunberg Leads Calls of Disappointment on Climate in Davos

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Welcome to our final daily edition of the Leadership Brief’s Davos diaries, in which we’ll catch you up on the latest from the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting and my colleague Kevin J. Delaney, CEO and editor-in-chief of Charter, shares the view on how a looming recession could impact businesses. We’ll be back on Sunday with more insights on how the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting went this year. In the meantime, you can follow all our WEF-related coverage here, and if you’re in Davos, pick up a copy of TIME’s special issue in the Congress Centre.

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For all the conversation around sustainability and the climate crisis, disappointment about the lack of real progress on the ground was palpable as the week drew to a close. Fresh off her detention in Germany, Greta Thunberg was in Davos Thursday to issue an open letter to fossil fuel company CEOs demanding that they immediately halt opening new extraction sites for oil, gas or coal, signed alongside Vanessa Nakate, Helena Gualinga, and Luisa Neubauer. The environmental activists appeared on a panel with the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Executive Director, Fatih Birol.

Thunberg called out delegates in Davos, who she said were “mostly fueling the destruction of the planet,” and “at the very core of the climate crisis,” such as those who have invested in fossil fuels. “Somehow these are the people that we seem to rely on solving our problems when they have proven time and time again that they are not prioritizing that,” Thunberg told an audience at The Filecoin Sanctuary. “They are prioritizing self-greed, corporate greed and short-term economic profits above people and above planet.” She added that the people on the front lines of the climate crisis are those who we should be listening to, branding the situation “absurd.”

The IEA’s Birol emphasized the need for much more investment in clean energy to combat global warming during Thursday’s panel, highlighting that there is a $2.5 trillion shortfall in funding required to meet climate targets.

Birol told TIME earlier this week that the clean energy transition for developing countries is crucial, and expressed some frustration with the lack of progress in Davos given the heavy corporate presence. He noted that the relative lack of snow here demonstrated just how vital action on climate change is.

Former U.S. Vice President and co-founder and chairman of Generation Investment Management, Al Gore expressed frustration with slow progress on Wednesday, saying, “We are not winning. The crisis is still getting worse faster than we are deploying these solutions.” He also expressed support for Thunberg’s efforts during a protest to prevent the expansion of a coal mine in Germany earlier this week.

At Salesforce’s annual lunch on Thursday, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, in conversation with Gore, struck a more optimistic tone about the extent to which climate change had become a priority for leaders, according to one attendee.

View from the top

Even amid high-profile layoffs and economic clouds, U.S. workers should be optimistic about their prospects, according to political and business leaders at Davos.

A majority of CEOs have no plans to freeze hiring or lay off workers over the next 12 months, according to new research from PricewaterhouseCoopers. “When I look at the bulk of our clients, they’re still hiring in the right areas,” said Tim Ryan, U.S. Chair at PwC.

It’s partly simple math: there are still close to two job openings for every person who’s looking for work. Longer-term demographic trends also favor workers. “We aren’t having enough babies and the U.S. immigration policy isn’t bringing in enough workers to meet the needs,” said Rachel Romer, CEO of Guild, an education, skilling, and career-mobility platform, via phone. She also noted that the current layoffs wave is concentrated in the tech and finance industries and corporate headquarters, with limited impact beyond that.

Senior executives in Davos also privately acknowledged that their efforts to drag employees back into offices more days per week are being broadly ignored. They admitted they’re unlikely to be able to enforce traditional office attendance, even as it’s less easy for workers to hop from company to company these days, theoretically diminishing some of their leverage.

U.S. Labor Secretary Martin Walsh contended that businesses need to continue increasing pay and benefits as well. “It’s going to come down to retention,” Walsh told a group of reporters. “If you have a happy workforce and a loyal workforce, then you don’t have to worry about retention.”

Business leaders in Davos discussed concerns that the accelerating application of artificial intelligence could reduce the demand for human workers. But Romer countered that AI isn’t for the foreseeable future capable of replacing many front-line workers in industries such as retail, healthcare, and services. “If you develop the right skills, the world is your oyster—and not only that, you’re going to get to do some amazing things,” said Ryan. “I think climate is exciting. I think reinventing on the backs of world class technology is exciting.”

Kevin Delaney

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Peak moment

Speaking at the Victor Pinchuk Foundation’s Ukrainian Breakfast on Thursday, Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, invoking a Wayne Gretzky metaphor, told attendees that the “puck is going to Ukrainian victory, so let’s skate there.” Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson added: “Tell Putin to get the puck out of Ukraine.”

Spotted at Davos

  • U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and General Atlantic CEO Bill Ford in the audience at a packed Ukrainian breakfast hosted by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation.
  • Former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz holding court in the Congress Centre’s central lounge.
  • The U.K.’s Princess Beatrice chatting to Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell and earlier to Monzo boss TS Anil.
  • Queen Máxima of the Netherlands posing for photos for admirers.
  • U.K. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer being questioned by a voter about his plans to engage the youth vote.

Looking ahead

Friday will be a short day as the annual meeting comes to an end and delegates head home—or to the slopes. Here’s what to watch:

  • International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire, Bank of Japan governor Kuroda Haruhiko, and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers will discuss the future of the global economy at 5:00 a.m. ET Friday.
  • WEF President Børge Brende will deliver the forum’s closing remarks at 6:00 a.m. ET Friday.

with reporting by Yasmeen Serhan