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World: Davos Forum Discusses 'Shifting Power' --> (epa) January 25, 2007 -- Each January, the population of a small Swiss mountain resort swells by about one-quarter. But not with tourists keen to get on the ski slopes; the visitors to Davos are some of the world's most powerful people attending the annual World Economic Forum.

It reads like a list of the world's rich and powerful.

The A List

Twenty-four heads of state or government, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

An opinion poll for the forum found they now rate protecting the environment as the second most-important priority after economic growth.

Some 800 corporate leaders, including top executives from companies like Coca-Cola, BP, Gazprom, and Microsoft.

They've joined academics, a scrum of journalists, and one or two celebrities, like Bono, the rock musician who's now just as famous for being an antipoverty activist.

Shifting Power

Between now and January 28, the participants -- some 2,300 of them -- will get together for more than 200 sessions under one unifying theme: "The Shifting Power Equation."

"Look at governments," says forum Executive Director Klaus Schwab. "You have today much more 'pull power' of citizens compared to 'push power' of governments. Or look at companies -- you have today a shifting of the power from the center, which means from the enterprise itself, more toward the customers, toward the shareholders, toward the regulators. If you look on a geopolitical level, we are moving from a structure or a world system which was more or less based on one power to a multipower system."

So alongside discussions on problems like Iraq and the Middle East, there are sessions on the growing economic and geopolitical clout of countries like China, India, and Brazil.

There will be others on how technology, particularly the Internet, is empowering individuals at the expense of large institutions.

At one, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will be among those discussing the impact of increasingly popular social-networking sites like MySpace.

Focus On Climate Change

And global warming was one focus of Merkel's opening speech, in which she spoke in favor of new binding commitments to reduce carbon emissions.

Climate change seems to be of growing concern, too, to the other business and political leaders who are attending Davos.

An opinion poll for the forum found they now rate protecting the environment as the second most-important priority after economic growth.

In all, the forum will have 17 sessions on the issue, asking how businesses and governments should respond to climate change, amid growing calls for limits to harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

"Continued accumulation of carbon deposits -- it's not sustainable to go unabated throughout the century," said Jonathon Schmidt, director of the forum's global agenda. "So we have to draw a line in the sand and collectively have countries, regions, civil society to all have a collective call to action to set out those goals."

Of course, these are the topics high on Davos's public agenda. What may be just as important -- perhaps even more so -- is what happens when the world's business and political elite get together behind the scenes.

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