Climate activists chant ‘eat the rich’ at Davos summit amid big oil concerns

Activists take part in a protest in Davos on Sunday to raise awareness on climate change prior to the WEF annual meeting  (Anadolu Agency/Getty)
Activists take part in a protest in Davos on Sunday to raise awareness on climate change prior to the WEF annual meeting (Anadolu Agency/Getty)

Climate activists held a demonstration in Davos as oil and gas executives rub shoulders with government leaders at this week’s World Economic Forum (WEF).

The Davos summit, an annual meeting of global business and political leaders, started in Switzerland on Monday.

Along with over 50 world leaders and international organisations, around 1,500 top business leaders are set to take part in the gathering in the Swiss resort, including executives of major energy firms like BP, Chevron and Saudi Aramco.

The conference is traditionally billed as a discussion of the biggest threats to the global economy, and as such will be crucial for discussions around climate action. However, activists fear the presence of Big Oil corperations could turn the summit into a greenwashing exercise.

More than one hundred protesters gathered in a snowy Davos square on Monday and chanted, “change your diet for the climate, eat the rich”, while some booed oil firms cited during a speech.

“We are demanding concrete and real climate action,” said Nicolas Siegrist, the 26-year-old organiser of the protest who also heads the Young Socialists party in Switzerland.

“They will be in the same room with state leaders and they will push for their interests,” Mr Siegrist said of the involvement of energy companies at the WEF meeting.

Some members held a sign saying “Stop Rosebank”, referring to a North Sea oil and gas field.

“I know some of the companies are involved in alternatives but I think governments with their subsidies have to skew the field in favour of alternative energy,” said Heather Smith, a member of the 99 per cent organisation.

Rising interest rates have also made it harder for renewable energy developments to attract financing, giving traditional players with deep pockets a competitive advantage.

“There is still too much money to be made from fossil fuel investments,” she added.

Energy sources like oil and gas along with coal are responsible for the majority of the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, leading to catastrophic outcomes such as disasters.

The oil and gas industry has said that it needs to be part of the debate on energy transition as fossil fuels will continue to play a major role in the world’s energy mix, even as countries shift to low-carbon economies.

Last week, young climate activist Vanessa Nakate said the Davos summit has been dominated by wealthy individuals greenwashing their businesses.

“Davos is of course dominated by a wealthy, elite group of people from the global north, global issues are talked about from this perspective,” Ms Nakate told reporters at a virtual press conference.

“Oil and gas CEOs are invited into the forum to greenwash their businesses. It’s not hard to be cynical about the prospects for climate justice after spending a week there.”

Additional reporting by agencies