As the World Economic Forum opens in Davos, Switzerland on Monday, it’s hard to miss dozens of sessions discussing the global climate crisis. But don’t look for the first organization to bring a sustainability theme to Davos 50 years ago. The Club of Rome, which rose to fame in the early 1970s for sounding the alarm about the planet’s “limits to development”—even at Davos—excluded from this year’s event.
The reason could be a difference in opinion. Last Friday, The club and its allies have released a letter urges leaders at Davos to “tax assets, income, companies and profits” gradually in response to the climate emergency. Among the signers is a co-author of the original Limits to GrowthKate Raworth, economist at “donut economy,” and the club’s co-chairs.
But such a message is unlikely to reach the Swiss ski resort. Undoubtedly, addressing the energy, food and climate crises is one of the five thematic pillars at the Annual Meeting. “Climate action” was also the subject of dozens of discussions. But this is not true of discussions about taxes, wealth or inequality. There is exactly one session on tax reform and two sessions on inequality.
tax Of course, they will always be harder to sell to the global business elite. After all, they are a zero-sum game. A dollar in taxes paid to the government is a dollar of less profit for the company and its shareholders. With climate action, that seems less likely. Several companies have monetized the energy transition, profiting from turning the green economy into an opportunity.
But for Sandrine Dixson-Decleve, co-president of the Club of Rome, that reason makes no sense. “The social tipping point will be our biggest challenge as we move through the 21st century,” she told me over the phone on her way to Davos. “We cannot talk about climate without talking about the hypocrisy of our tax structure.”
In their letter, the Club acknowledged the difficulty of getting its message across. “Business leaders in Davos this week may feel that this strategy [taxing wealth, income, companies and windfall profits] against their personal and short-term interests,” they wrote. But they continue to call it a “limited” and “self-destructive” perspective.
Taxes, in theory, strengthen society and governments, and that will be crucial as the world tackles the so-called “multi-crisis” in climate, energy, food, immigration and other sectors. .
But will it be enough of an argument?
There are at least a handful of tax advocates present at Congress Center this week who could push the debate forward. Gabriel Zucman, French economist best known for tax haven research, will be one of the participants in the tax filing session in Davos. Mathias Cormann, Secretary General of the OECD, the intergovernmental organization is trying raise the global tax baris another one.
From its fringe presence in Davos, the Club of Rome will also have conversations with governments and individuals they hope will participate in their tax hike scheme. They include John Kerry, the US presidential special envoy for climate; Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission; Kristalina Georgieva, executive director of the International Monetary Fund; and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
As the Club of Rome well knows, persuading the global business elite of something that benefits them in the long run, not in the short term, is in itself a long game. It took the club nearly 50 years to get business leaders to prove their point about the limits to growth. Ready, two-thirds of Americans have a favorable view of the IRSone jump 20% compared to the 1980s, 1990s and most recently 2010.
But if the Club is right about the urgency of the economic and social crisis we face this time, they should hope that they will be vindicated at Davos in less time. And that will either require them to get directly involved in the debate or find some powerful allies in the orbit of the World Economic Forum. So far, that remains a limit to the growth of the Club of Rome itself at Davos.
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