Greenpeace at Davos

Feature story - 29 January, 2007
Here's the text of a speech that Greenpeace International Executive Director Gerd Leipold gave at the Public Eye Award ceremony at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. The Public Eye on Davos grew out of a public demonstration first organised in 1997 to voice opposition to the WEF and denounce the negative effects of globalization.

Greenpeace activist (and International Executive Director) Gerd Leipold. Greenpeace shut down the Esso station in Wasserbillig, on the border of Luxembourg and Germany, as part of a nationwide protest.

Public Eye 2007 in Davos

Gerd Leipold, International Executive Director, Greenpeace

Over the next four days, we will hear amazing speeches in Davos, and you might be tempted into thinking some sort of mass conversion has taken place. Company after company, politician after politician will lament climate change, express their deep concerns and claim again to move away from business as usual.

In short: What might have been said at the World Social Forum a few years ago, has now become the language of the World Economic Forum. It seems like an astonishing step forward.

But let's not be naive. Climate change progressed whilst it was being denied, and it continues to progress,  now that is has been acknowledged. While the chimneys keep blasting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the hot air from conference rooms will not make any difference to the real world, no matter how worried the powerful of the world seem to be, no matter how many crocodile tears they shed - here in Davos or in the pages of so-called 'sustainability reports'.

There is no doubt that the world is changing. And that's not because the powerful acknowledge it, but because the exploitation of planet Earth continues. We dredge fish out of the oceans faster than they can reproduce, using destructive industrial fleets which empty the waters where local fishermen once made their living sustainably. We cut down ancient forests to grow soya and to produce disposable wood and paper products such as toilet paper and plywood. Our immense thirst for burning fossil fuels is saturating the Earth's atmosphere with greenhouse gases causing glaciers to melt, sea levels to rise and storms to become more destructive. Wars are being fought to secure access to oil.

And make no mistake: Many of the people who indeed have changed this planet in this way - and continue to do so - will meet and talk here in Davos this week. But talking's not enough. They have to take full corporate, political, and personal responsibility, and act accordingly now.

What happens here at the WEF is no longer a private meeting. As business leaders see themselves as the promoters of public debate and decision maker, and as politicians from all over the world participate, the WEF is no longer a private meeting. Agenda setting at a private meeting is a predemocratic model. Therefore, we need openness not just in a few public fora but for all forms of creative protests of civil society here and elsewhere..

So, how can I justify my participation on behalf of Greenpeace .in the World Economic Forum?

Simply because it is important that the agenda setting is not left to the powerful. It is because those relatively few delegates affect the lives of billions of people who are neither present nor represented at the WEF. It is because someone needs to mention that good intentions for the future do not replace the responsibility for the past. It is because those corporations which make genuine steps forward deserve acknowledgement and support - and those who only want to do greenwashing, must hear on the spot that they will not get away with it any longer. It is, because business dominates so much of people's lives, that we cannot leave it to business people only.

As the world experiences its biggest environmental crisis and even the corporations slowly but surely become aware of it, we as members of civil society face a huge task. It is up to us to create the pressure that turns their words into actions. It is up to us, to keep raising the demand for corporate accountability, it is up to us to compare promises with actions, it us up to us to distinguish real solutions from window dressing. We have to expose exploitation and destruction and, by the same token, support genuine change. We have to insist on and participate in the democratic debate. We have to claim the space for those who are not listened to and suffer the most from the environmental damage caused by the actions, or inactions of those in corporate and political spheres. In short: It is up to us to put rights over power, care over money, peace over war.

This is what the Public Eye stands for. This is the message, which it has spread for the last eight years very effectively. Today this symbolic index finger right next to the world's biggest business is more important than ever. I am more than happy to carry this message over to the WEF.