Environmental risks dominate WEF ranking of long-term threats

11th January 2024


The top four most severe risks facing the planet over the next 10 years are all related to the environment, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Its Global Risks Report 2024, which draws on the views of over 1,400 risk experts, lists extreme weather events, critical change to Earth systems, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, and natural resource shortages as the top threats over the next decade.

Extreme weather events are also ranked second among the most severe short-term risks facing the world over the next two years, with two-thirds of experts worried about these in 2024.

However, there is disagreement on the urgency of these risks, with private sector experts believing that most environmental threats will materialise over a longer timeframe than civil society or governments do.

The report suggests that this points to a growing risk of getting “past a point of no return”, and recommends focusing global cooperation on rapidly building guardrails for the most disruptive risks.

"World leaders must come together to address short-term crises as well as lay the groundwork for a more resilient, sustainable, inclusive future,” said Saadia Zahidi, WEF’s managing director.

“An unstable global order characterised by polarising narratives and insecurity, the worsening impacts of extreme weather, and economic uncertainty are causing accelerating risks – including misinformation and disinformation – to propagate.”

Indeed, misinformation and disinformation is ranked as the top short-term risk in the report, and fifth among the long-term threats. This is shown below:

Source: WEF

Two-thirds of global experts anticipate a multipolar or fragmented order to take shape over the next decade, in which middle and great powers contest and set – but also enforce – new rules and norms.

Furthermore, the report suggests that artificial intelligence (AI)-driven misinformation and societal unrest will take centre stage amid elections in several major economies over the next two years.

“AI breakthroughs will radically disrupt the risk outlook for organisations, with many struggling to react to threats arising from misinformation, disintermediation and strategic miscalculation," commented Carolina Klint, chief commercial officer for Europe at insurer Marsh McLennan.

“At the same time, companies are having to negotiate supply chains made more complex by geopolitics and climate change and cyber threats from a growing number of malicious actors.

“It will take a relentless focus to build resilience at organisational, country and international levels – and greater cooperation between the public and private sectors – to navigate this rapidly evolving risk landscape.”

Image credit: Shutterstock

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