The annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland is about to start. As usual, the forum will gather the world’s political and business elite, and will last from Jan. 21 to 24. Here’s everything there is to know ahead of time on how this meeting will be vital for the crypto and blockchain industry.
WEF is modernizing its agenda
This year’s theme is “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World,” which could be seen as the WEF’s response to criticism surrounding the annual gatherings in the Alps. Over the past few years, Davos has become a symbol of the widening gap between rich and poor: It is generally attended by extremely wealthy people whose GDP might overshadow entire countries (this year, the forum will feature at least 119 billionaires, Bloomberg noted), while the $43 hot dogs sold at a conference hotspot have become somewhat of a meme.
Now, it has come to the point where some players don’t even want to be associated with the forum: For instance, when Starbucks’ CEO, Howard Schultz, announced he was running for United States president (he has since decided against the idea), some people were shouting “Go back to Davos” at his rallies — even though he has allegedly never attended the forum.
Still, the WEF’s annual gatherings have historically served as a platform for international conversation and negotiation — focused on preventing conflicts, among other things. The forum was originally launched in 1971 by German economist Klaus Schwab as the European Management Forum, and its initial goal was to help European businesses develop by placing them in the same room with influential actors from the government. It was reorganized as an international event in 2015.
Thus, the WEF’s Davos 2020 meeting is set to discuss sustainable development: namely, how to ensure a healthy future (and tackle mental health issues in particular); how to deal with climate change and rising pollution rates; how to achieve global collaboration among all 193 nations; and how to ensure that the technological revolution doesn’t create unfair conditions on the market and escalate international conflicts.
High-profile guests will include Gretha Thunberg and Donald Trump, with the crypto world also in attendance
Among the expected guests is climate change activist Gretha Thunberg, who has been named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019. She will be present at the “Averting a Climate Apocalypsis” panel, discussing how businesses and governments can collaborate to tackle global emissions of carbon dioxide.
The forum will also be visited by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has previously mocked Thunberg on Twitter. Trump was also scheduled to attend the 2019 Davos gathering but skipped due to the government shutdown. Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde are also among listed speakers.
As for those from the crypto industry, the CEO of crypto payments firm Circle, Jeremy Allaire, will participate in the session titled “Shaping the Future of Financial and Monetary Systems.” Explaining his WEF mission to Coindesk, Allaire mentioned that he will promote the concept of stablecoins.
Further, Calibra CEO David Marcus, who was one of the key players for the industry in 2019, will be one of the public speakers at a panel devoted to “Creating a Credible and Trusted Digital Currency.” The session will cover how a digital currency might entail financial inclusion (one of the Libra’s key stated aims) and what role central banks might play in this process.
Marcus will be joined by Sheila Warren, head of blockchain at the WEF, and Bitcoin (BTC) critic and general manager at the Bank for International Settlements Agustin Carstens, who has previously advised against the issuance of central bank digital currencies. Finally, Neha Narula, director of the Digital Currency Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, who has argued for increased regulations within the crypto space, will also attend the session.
Other expected guests (albeit not speakers) from the crypto space include the Winklevoss brothers of the Gemini exchange and J. Christopher Giancarlo, former chairman and “crypto dad” of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, who is now advocating the idea of a blockchain-based U.S. dollar with a new think tank called the Digital Dollar Foundation.
WEF Davos 2020 vs. 2019: Digital currencies vs. blockchain
In 2019, there was a sizable amount of crypto bashing at the Davos WEF. For instance, PayPal CEO Dan Schulman criticized Bitcoin for its limited retail appeal while Huw van Steenis, who is the senior adviser to Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, went as far as to say that he is not worried about cryptocurrencies because they are “slower” than their mainstream counterparts.
At the same time, blockchain was largely praised. Even JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon — who famously said that he doesn’t “really give a s---” about Bitcoin in the past — admitted that the technology is “real.” It makes sense, given that he unveiled the controversial JPM Coin a few months later.
Currently, the validity of blockchain is obvious enough to the public — the technology even applies to the WEF’s current theme of climate change. According to the accounting giant KPMG, blockchain (combined with the Internet of Things) will be used to manage climate change in 2020. This notion will be discussed at the upcoming WEF Davos event, according to KMPG’s U.S. blockchain lead, Arun Ghosh.
Considering that digital currencies akin to stablecoins — either issued by private firms like with Libra or government-backed CBDCs — will likely be the most discussed crypto-related topics at the upcoming forum. It seems fair to assume that they might become the next hot topic among mainstream actors — and a CBDC-focused alternative to an industry association like the Global Blockchain Business Council could be assembled as a result, ultimately helping central banks around the world to reach a consensus on digital currencies.