updated 1/24/2007 8:11:04 AM ET 2007-01-24T13:11:04

A dearth of snow threatened to make this year's annual meeting of the World Economic Forum the greenest ever, but a storm covered the town with a fresh layer of white Wednesday as participants started discussing global warming and climate change.

The five-day meeting is also focusing on efforts to resolve the seemingly endless tensions in the Middle East.

About 2,400 business and political leaders, journalists, bloggers and celebrities — including musicians and social activists Bono and Peter Gabriel — are meeting at the five-day annual gathering to talk politics, economics and social issues in an atmosphere aimed at finding long-term solutions instead of quick fixes.

Some 24 heads of state are due to attend to the meeting, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will give the keynote address and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was warmly greeted in 2005 when he and Treasury chief Gordon Brown proposed massive debt relief for third world countries.

But this year's meeting promises a return to forums of old with a heavy emphasis on the issues that the WEF's members, most of them businesses, are facing.

"We are living in a schizophrenic world," said Klaus Schwab, executive director and founder of the World Economic Forum. "On the one hand, we have an economy which is doing very well and even the prospects for this year are very promising.

"On the other hand we have so many underlying imbalances, inconsistencies, weaknesses and fragilities," he told reporters. "So what we want to do with this meeting is to highlight the need to address those global challenges."

Global warming and security are the two dominant issues, Schwab said, and the initial lack of thick snow in the town that bills itself as the highest ski resort in Europe was a firm reminder that climate change is a hot topic.

The annual meeting is also to focus on securing global energy supplies, including the development of more alternative fuels, particularly in light of oil prices that surged in 2006 before settling in recent weeks, supply disruptions from Russia and attacks on oil pipelines in Iraq and Nigeria.

President Bush called during his state of the union address Tuesday night for American imports to be cut by the equivalent of 75 percent of the oil coming from the Middle East.

His prescription relied primarily on market incentives and technological advances — not government mandates.

"America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil," he said. "These technologies will help us become better stewards of the environment — and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change."

His words echoed those in Davos.

"By putting climate change at the top of the Davos 2007 agenda, the World Economic Forum has focused on the key challenge of our time," Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, said on the WEF blog. "The moment to act is now. Many of those present in Davos have the power to move decisively on global emission reductions — the world is looking to them to rise to this crucial challenge."

There will be 17 sessions focusing on climate change, featuring topics to help companies and governments navigate the legalities of implementing policy changes aimed at curbing emissions and pollution and how to make going green profitable.

A survey of participants by pollster Gallup International found that this year twice as many attendees as last year thought that environmental protection should be a priority for world leaders.

"The companies represented at the annual meeting have a combined turnover of about $10 trillion — nearly a quarter of global GDP — so catalyzing their deeper engagement in this issue can only be a good thing for all of us," said Dominic Waughray, head of environmental initiatives for the WEF.

Security was tight around the city, with Swiss police, the military and private contractors cordoning off access to the Congress Center, the meeting's main venue.

Protests, by people critical of globalization and who claim that corporate and big business favors profits over people, are expected to be minimal. Critics have planned an action day for Jan. 27 in Davos and a national demonstration in the city of Basel the same day.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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