For the first time in
the 15 years of the Global Risks Report, the climate change and environment
risk has occupied all the top
According to the 15th edition of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Risks Report, the top five risks in terms of likelihood are extreme weather, climate action failure, natural disasters, biodiversity loss and human-made environmental disasters. They all fall in the one category of climate change and related environmental disasters.
WEF President Borge Brende said the world was feeling long-mounting and interconnected risks.
The report also points to how citizens are protesting across the world as discontent rises with failed systems that are creating inequality. The citizens’ discontent had hardened with systems that had failed to promote advancement, it said.
“Disapproval of how governments are addressing profound economic and social issues has sparked protests throughout the world, potentially weakening the ability of governments to take decisive action should a downturn occur. Without economic and social stability, countries could lack the financial resources, fiscal margin, political capital or social support needed to confront key global risks,” it said.
Listing the grim scenario, Borge said the global economy was faced with “synchronised slowdown”, the past five years had been the warmest on record and cyber attacks were expected to increase this year.
The report warns that while the myriad risks were rising, time was running out on how to prevent them.
Borge said the growing palpability of shared economic, environmental and societal risks indicated that the horizon had shortened for preventing “or even mitigating” some of the direst consequences of global risks.
“It’s sobering that in the face of this development, when the challenges before us demand immediate collective action, fractures within the global community appear to only be widening,” he said.
The report points to grave concern about the consequences of continued environmental degradation, including the record pace of species decline.
Pointing to an unsettled geopolitical environment, the report said today’s risk landscape was one in which new centres of power and influence were forming and old alliance structures and global institutions were being tested.
“While these changes can create openings for new partnership structures in the immediate term, they are putting stress on systems of coordination and challenging norms around shared responsibility. Unless stakeholders adapt multilateral mechanisms for this turbulent period, the risks that were once on the horizon will continue to arrive,” it said.
Calling it a “an unsettled world”, the WEF report notes that powerful economic, demographic and technological forces were shaping a new balance of power. “The result is an unsettled geopolitical landscape in which states are increasingly viewing opportunities and challenges through unilateral lenses,” it said.
“What were once givens regarding alliance structures and multilateral systems no longer hold as states question the value of long-standing frameworks, adopt more nationalist postures in pursuit of individual agendas and weigh the potential geopolitical consequences of economic decoupling. Beyond the risk of conflict, if stakeholders concentrate on immediate geo-strategic advantage and fail to re-imagine or adapt mechanisms for coordination during this unsettled period, opportunities for action on key priorities may slip away,” the WEF said.
In a chapter on risks to economic stability and social cohesion, it said a challenging economic climate might persist this year and members of the multi-stakeholder community saw “economic confrontations” and “domestic political polarisation” as the top risks in 2020.
The report also warned of downward pressure on the global economy from macroeconomic fragilities and financial inequality. These pressures continued to intensify in 2019, increasing the risk of economic stagnation.
Low trade barriers, fiscal prudence and strong global investment, once seen as fundamentals for economic growth, are fraying as leaders advance nationalist policies. The margins for monetary and fiscal stimuli are also narrower than before the 2008-2009 financial crisis, creating uncertainty about how well countercyclical policies will work.
The strategic partners for the WEF report included Marsh & McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group. The academic advisers were National University of Singapore, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford and Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, University of Pennsylvania.