The Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) ended yesterday. A selection of the sessions were webcast. One week every year, the tranquil swiss skiing village of Davos is transformed into an extravagant schmoozefest for the rich and powerful that are lucky enough to make it through WEF president Klaus Schwab’s door.

This year, bankers kept a low profile, not wanting to be seen in extravagant and luxurious settings. Some of those who came reportedly swapped their lear jets with first-class seats on commercial aircraft. According to one, the crisis had humbled them. Others said that for bankers, “sorry” is indeed the hardest word. The current and former U.S politicians that attended were those willing to take the blame. (Clinton, Gore, and Dean) The usual contingency of US senators was largely absent. Obama sent Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor.

Not surprisingly, the financial and economic crisis figured heavily on the schedule this time, with each panel seemingly gloomier than the previous. Nouriel Roubini, whose previous warnings about an overheating economy used to be dismissed, was now the centre of attention. For most commentators, the main stories were the absence of bankers and the blame for the crisis that they received, as well as Turkish PM Erdogan’s overheating in an angry exchange with Israeli President Peres (and its possible implications) in a session on Gaza.

Against this backdrop, climate change featured as a bit of a side show, despite it being the most important year for global negotiations since 1997. However, the forum featured many sessions on the topic. (although few public transcripts) The official outcomes report (pdf) notes that, at the request of PM Gordon Brown, a new WEF task force of business leaders, economists and other experts was launched to provide advice to the UN climate negotiations. No details yet on who is on it.

The most newsworthy climate session (at least of the few that were webcast) was structured as a call to action featuring former VP Gore, UNSG Ban Ki-Moon, UNFCCC SG de Boer, Danish PM Fogh Rasmussen, Shell CEO van der Veer, and Swiss Re CEO Algrain.

– Ban-Ki Moon urged participants to stay focused on reaching a global agreement despite the economic uncertainty. In previous sessions, he noted climate change was the only “existential threat that we face”, and called on business and government to support a “Green New Deal.

– Gore urged participants not “to get the impression that Copenhagen is a weigh station on the way to something next year.” He reiterated comments he made during last week’s senate hearing and said “we need an agreement this year, not next year, but this year.” He noted that developing countries hold the key to a global agreement, as their engagement was more or less a precondition for some developed countries (i.e US) to consent to binding targets. And Gore came out in favour of a carbon tax, saying emissions trading was the next best solution to integrating carbon externalities in markets.

– de Boer said “we have got to get it right in Copenhagen, as there is absolutely no second chance here.” Offering few specifics, he said a global deal would need to include ambitious targets, significant engagement by developing countries (notably BRICS), stable, predictable financing for mitigation and adaptation, and new global governance. On the last point, he talked about the contradiction of asking developing countries to take more responsibility in global climate governance, while keeping their formal influence in global economic institutions (G8, IMF/World Bank) well below what the size of their economies warrants.

– Shell CEO van der Veer called for an a global agreement where developed countries take on obligatory cuts, and developing countries are included through sector agreements. He referred to CCS as an interesting technology with huge potential, but hampered by cost and lots of uncertainty. He said it could, at best, be a bridge to a future of renewable energy.

– Fogh Rasmussen said agreeing on a fixed framework with clear targets is a prerequisite for creating a market. He held out Denmark as an example of how renewable energy can be a driver for both climate mitigation and economic growth.

Some other notable messages;

In a session on emissions trading,

– Nic Frances of Cool nrg said energy efficiency will have to account for 50 percent of global emissions reductions under any long-term plan, and described plans to distribute millions of free energy-efficient light bulbs in the UK and Mexico.

– Lars Josefsson, head of energy giant Vattenfall, said global average per capita emissions would have to come down to 1 ton per day this century in order to avoid dangerous climate change. Today, that would amount to EITHER one hot meal, a t-shirt, or a 20km car ride. Take your pick.

– U.S Congressman Baird (D-WA) flew to Davos to call for 20 percent cuts in 20 weeks (!), all based on each of us making voluntary reductions in personal energy use. Why not?

In a session on climate justice,

– Kofi Annan offered few specifics but said a global agreement in Copenhagen would have to be fair and equitable.

– President Jagdeo of Guyana lamented the limited amount of adaptation funding available under Kyoto (USD 400 million) and said his country alone needed USD 450 million. He questioned the politicians willingness to spend hundred of billions to bail out financial institutions “too big to fail”, but their unwillingness to save the planet. He was in Davos to push for financing for poor countries to fund reforestation.

– Howard Dean said the EU was now the global leader in environmental standards and carbon markets after eight years of Bush, but predicted President Obama will get the U.S back on track.

Update 5/2: Here is IISD’s brief Davos climate wrap-up.

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