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Australia snubs Davos session on Australian fires

The fires have decimated an area twice the size of Belgium and killed millions of animals, putting Australia in the Davos firing line next week | Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images

A new report, meanwhile, found that the Top 5 global risks are all climate-related.

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Updated

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is freaking out about climate change, but the world’s latest climate villain — the Australian government — is outside the room.

Australia’s bush fires have decimated an area twice the size of Belgium and killed millions of animals, putting the country in the Davos firing line next week. There’s only one problem: The Davos crowd will be talking at Canberra, but seemingly not to it.

The WEF’s planned session on the Australian fires doesn’t include an Australian speaker. The country’s Finance Minister Mathias Cormann is the only minister from Down Under attending the Davos summit — and his spokesperson Karen Wu said he wasn’t invited to participate in the panel, though he would be available if asked. Cormann is not speaking at any other climate-related session.

A WEF spokesperson said the organization is planning on including an Aussie voice, but the question is where they plan to find one, given that besides Cormann, there are just a handful of Australian WEF participants, with none addressing climate issues.

Australia’s lackluster green policies aside, there are pragmatic reasons keeping ministers from Davos this year. Australian PM Scott Morrison was forced to return from a vacation in Hawaii as much of Australia burned in recent weeks following a public backlash. The New South Wales state emergency services minister was similarly forced home from Europe.

Mismanaging fires has proved career-threatening for Australian politicians: mishandling them while hobnobbing in Davos would be fatal.

Meanwhile, the WEF’s 2020 Global Risks Perception Survey of 1,047 members of its networks — 44 percent were from climate-conscious Europe — indicates the Top 5 risks most likely facing the world are all climate-related.

That marks “the first time in the survey’s history that one category has occupied all five of the top spots,” according to Børge Brende, the WEF’s president.

While the WEF survey was concluded October 22, before the worst of the Australian fire season, the blazes have brought the three biggest overall risks identified by the WEF to the world’s attention: extreme weather, climate policy failure and biodiversity loss.

Meanwhile, the last Australian prime minister to address the Davos forum was Tony Abbott in 2014 — and he counts repealing the country’s carbon tax as one of his greatest achievements in office. Since then, successive Australian governments have argued that the country emits barely 1 percent of total global emissions, and should not take unilateral climate action that puts it at a competitive disadvantage to countries such as China.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Australia had snubbed the WEF panel on the Australian fires. It was updated to include a statement from a spokesperson for Cormann, who said the Australian minister had not been invited to attend the panel, and an additional statement from the WEF.

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