Brazil's new far-right president Jair Bolsonaro is expected to be the biggest attraction, in what will be his first international trip since his January 1st inauguration.
At the same time, Brazil's custody of the Amazon rainforest will be under particular scrutiny, after a new WEF survey found the Davos community worried most about climate change among sources of political and economic anxiety.
The WEF meeting is Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro's first official overseas trip since taking office. Photo: AFP
The survey highlighted fears of extreme weather patterns and the risk of disruption in an array of sectors including transport and logistics. On cue, heavy snowfall and deadly avalanches have hit the Alps this month, cutting off the train line to Davos at one point.
Like US President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro is a climate sceptic. His pro-business agenda and appointment of a like-minded rightwinger as environment minister have done nothing to ease concerns about deforestation in the Amazon.
The new leader of Latin America's largest economy will give the keynote address in Davos on Tuesday. He has vowed to showcase “a different Brazil, free of ideological ties and widespread corruption”.
Bolsonaro has also echoed Trump in bashing China, even as the world's second-biggest economy boosts Brazilian farm imports — sourced in part from cleared Amazon lands — as an alternative to US commodities in the midst of Trump's trade war.
“Bolsonaro's history doesn't suggest he's going to be a fervent adopter of the World Economic Forum's mantra of cross-border, stakeholder cooperation,” Douglas Rediker, chairman of International Capital Strategies in Washington, told the AFP news agency in a phone interview.
However, Bolsonaro will be accompanied by his US-educated economy minister, Paulo Guedes, who speaks the kind of investment-friendly language that is music to Davos ears.
Who else will be attending?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be there, as will her Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz, and the presidents of Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Peru, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will both attend, as will the prime ministers of Italy, Spain, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and Vietnam.
United Nations chief Antonio Guterres is going, flanked by the heads of the UN agencies for trade, labour, refugees and human rights, as well as the heads of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and NATO.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and British Prince William are both expected, as is legendary British broadcaster David Attenborough, performer Will.i.am and illusionist David Blaine.
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old environmental activist who made headlines last year after initiating a solo climate protest by striking in Sweden on every Friday in August 2018, will also attend.
Thunberg accused world leaders of behaving like irresponsible children for doing enough to combat environmental problems when she spoke at the climate summit in Poland (COP24).
What about the Swiss contingent?
Switzerland will be represented by four of its seven government ministers: Finance Minister (and current Swiss president under the country's rotating presidency system) Ueli Maurer, Home Affairs Minister Alain Berset, Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis and Economy Minister Guy Parmelin, who will no doubt get plenty of opportunity to test his heavily criticised English-language skills.
The four Swiss ministers will be taking part of a large number of bilateral meetings, with Maurer alone set to take part in 20 such encounters. However, a hoped-for meeting with Donald Trump on a possible free trade agreement between the US and Switzerland will not go ahead after Trump announced he would not be attending.
Who's not going?
Only three leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) countries said to be the most industrialised will be attending the WEF meeting.
Donald Trump attended last year and initially planned to return to Davos but, announced recently there would be no reprise of his visit, given he is currently engaged in a stand-off with Democratic MPs in the congress over funding for his much-touted wall along the US–Mexico border.
Because of the Democrats intransigence on Border Security and the great importance of Safety for our Nation, I am respectfully cancelling my very important trip to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. My warmest regards and apologies to the @WEF!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 10, 2019
UK Prime Minister Theresa May will also not attend. Instead she will be focusing on the political crisis at home after her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was overwhelming rejected by British lawmakers and she narrowly survived a vote of no-confidence launched by the opposition Labour party.
Meanwhile, French president Emmanuel Macron will miss out as he is beset with problems as he attempts to deal with the 'yellow vests' protest movement.
Russian and Indian leaders are also shunning Davos, and will not attend. Chinese president, Xi Jinping, the first Chinese leader to attend WEF in 2017, will also be absent and is sending his deputy instead.
What’s on the bill?
This year's theme is “Globalisation 4.0: Shaping the Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
Organisers say humanity is entering a time of profound global instability and “excessive inequality” and that leaders must learn from past mistakes to build inclusive societies and protect vulnerable communities.
“This fourth wave of globalisation needs to be human-centred, inclusive and sustainable,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.
“We are entering a period of profound global instability brought on by the technological disruption of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the realignment of geo-economics and geopolitical forces.
“We need principals from all stakeholder groups in Davos to summon the imagination and commitment necessary to tackle it.”
In total, there are some 350 meetings on the official program as well as a huge number of 'off-Broadway' events.
What are the critics saying?
As the first international gathering of 2019, the forum ought to be dominated by the climate emergency, Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan has said.
“Instead, the agenda only addresses climate change as one issue of many. The Davos 'elite' are still pretending we have time to fix the climate crisis. We don't,” she said.
WEF founder Klaus Schwab. Photo: AFP
Climate change threads through much of the Davos program this year. With the bosses of some 1,700 companies attending, discussions will focus on how the business world is trying to adapt even if Trump has abandoned US leadership on the threat.
The youth wing of Switzerland's Socialist Party will also be taking up the environmental baton with a protest set to take place in Davos on Thursday January 24th.
“We need a critical platform against the meeting of this richest and most powerful,” said the Young Socialists Vice President, Lewin Lempert, in a statement about the protest.
“A climate catastrophe is rushing towards us, but the world's most powerful refuse to take action. The need for political action is urgent,” he added.
In any case, the WEF certainly won't be helping the environment in the short-term. There are set to be an additional 800–1,000 take-offs and landings at Zurich airport during the event, according to Swiss daily NZZ. A not-insignificant number of WEF guests will then travel onward to Davos by helicopter.
Enough of work, what’s the social life like?
Davos has gained a reputation for extravagant parties held by Russian oligarchs, business millionaires and company CEOs where rare, ludicrously expensive wines are guzzled like water, Michelin-star chefs rustle up the canapés and music icons such as John Legend entertain the guests.
According to Business Insider in 2015 one party was shut down by police at 2am after noise complaints – but the host didn’t mind because his guests had already got through two nights’ worth of booze.
So who keeps the peace?