Annual World Economic Forum kicks off with US President Donald Trump criticising "prophets of doom" and teenage activist Greta Thunberg urging global financial elite to act against environmental crisis.

US President Donald Trump delivers a speech during the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 21, 2020
US President Donald Trump delivers a speech during the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 21, 2020 (Reuters)

US President Donald Trump took aim at the "perennial prophets of doom" on the environment, telling the annual Davos forum on Tuesday that warnings of climate crisis were "foolish".

In a keynote speech to the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Swiss ski resort, Trump touted fossil fuels, de-regulation and a booming US economy – a message in stark contrast to the dire warnings delivered by teenage campaigner Greta Thunberg and others.

"We must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse," Trump said hours after Thunberg told the WEF that governments had done "basically nothing" to reverse climate change.

With Thunberg in the audience, Trump branded those warning of out-of-control global warming and other environmental disasters "the heirs of yesterday's foolish fortune tellers".

Trump ticked off what he said were previous predictions that had been proved wrong, ranging from overpopulation in the 1960s to "an end of oil" in the 1990s.

"We will never let radical socialists destroy our economy," said Trump, apparently referring to his Democratic party opponents ahead of the presidential election in November.

'One trillion trees' project

Trump took the stage in Davos just after the Swiss president delivered a speech appealing for the world to care for the planet.

But the US leader heralded the US as "number one producer of oil and natural gas".

He rattled off numbers indicating what he said were huge savings for American consumers and invited Europe to buy more US energy products.

The expansion of oil, gas and coal production has "been so successful that the US no longer needs to import energy from hostile nations", he said.

"Our European allies no longer have to be vulnerable" if they "use America's vast supply".

Trump said the US was joining a newly announced international initiative called the "one trillion trees" project and he said he wanted to conserve "the majesty of God's creation and the natural beauty of our world".

But he said technical innovation, not restricting economic growth, is the way forward.

"Fear and doubt is not a good thought process," he said.

Thunberg has a word with elites

Earlier climate activist Greta Thunberg said, "It will require much more than this. This is just the very beginning." 

Speaking calmly and with a wry smile, the 17-year-old acknowledged that her campaign, which began with school strikes, had attracted huge attention without yet achieving concrete change.

"There is a difference between being heard to actually leading to something," she said.

While the WEF and individual business leaders have been detailing their own concerns about climate change, Greenpeace complained in a new report that some of the world's biggest banks, insurers and pension funds have collectively invested $1.4 trillion in fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal in 2016.

"Pretty much nothing has been done as global Co2 emissions have not been reduced. And that is of course what we are trying to achieve," said Thunberg.

Sustainability on agenda 

Sustainability is the buzzword at the Davos forum, which began in 1971, with heel crampons handed out to participants to encourage them to walk on the icy streets rather than used cars, and the signage paint made out of seaweed.

Trump's opposition to renewable energy, his withdrawal from the Paris accord negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama, and the freehand extended to the fossil fuel industry puts him at odds with this year's thrust of the event.

"People are playing a lot more attention to climate," Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer said at Davos, adding there was "genuine action by some big players" after investment titan BlackRock said it was partially divesting out of coal.

"But let's be clear – a big part of this is because we failed for a very long time and governments continue to fail," he added.

Business leaders are likely also to be concerned by the state of the global economy whose prospects, according to the International Monetary Fund, have improved but remain brittle.

The IMF cut its global growth estimate for 2020 to 3.3 percent, saying that a recent truce in the trade war between China and the US had brought some stability but that risks remained.

"We are already seeing some tentative signs of stabilisation but we have not reached a turning point yet," said IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva.

Activists, meanwhile, will be pressing for much more concrete action to fight inequality, after Oxfam issued a report outlining how the number of billionaires has doubled in the past decade and the world's 22 richest men now have more wealth than all the women in Africa.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies