We’re only halfway through January and any attempt to look for the positives in 2019 is dissolving rapidly. The US government has smashed the record for longest shutdown and Brexit negotiations in the UK are, let’s say, not going well. Luckily, we’ve got some good news for you. Only kidding, here we bring you the biggest risks threatening the world this year, according to a top new report.
Each year the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report presents the results of its Global Risk Perception Survey, made up of the assessment and informed opinions of 1,000 decision and policy makers from the public and private sectors as well as academia and civil society.
It puts together the top 10 biggest threats facing the world in the coming year; the ones deemed the most likely and the ones that would have the biggest impact, essentially the ones most important to resolve. And for the third year running, environmental threats top the lists.
The report doesn’t sugar coat. “Of all risks, it is about the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe,” it warns.
Extreme weather events, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, and natural disasters are the top three most likely risks, and all three are in the top five in terms of biggest impact on the world. Humanmade environmental disasters and biodiversity loss and ecological collapse are in the top 10 of both lists.
All five were in the top 10 of last year’s report but have moved up in ranking thanks to an unprecedented year of extreme weather events and natural disasters that included Guatemala's volcano eruption, Anak Krakatoa's eruption and subsequent tsunami in Indonesia, California's worst wildfires ever, record-breaking heatwaves in Australia and Europe, and Hurricanes Michael and Florence.
Environmental threats may dominate, but technological threats are also of high importance. Data fraud or theft, cyber attacks, and critical information infrastructure breakdown appear in the top 10 of both lists after a year of fake news and increasing email hacks.
Interestingly, the report also warns of unprecedented “geopolitical and geo-economic” tensions that may hinder collectively working together to resolve these threats. Nine out of 10 participants in the survey expected economic and political confrontations between major powers to worsen this year.
It appears to be alluding to the increasing unpredictability of the US, with an inward-facing government and “America First” outlook. One that has resulted in pulling out of the global effort to mitigate the effects of climate change, otherwise known as the Paris Accord, as well as increasing antipathy towards longstanding allies and thawing relationships with traditional antagonists. Alarmingly, this inward-looking trend appears to be spreading globally.
So, although environmental threats rightly top the list, it appears that global tension and political divides are what the report is really warning currently pose the biggest threat.
"There has never been a more pressing need for a collaborative and multistakeholder approach to shared global problems," Børge Brende, president of the WEF says in the report's introduction. The question, of course, is how late is too late?