Environmental threats dominate WEF's Global Risks Report 2021

19th January 2021


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Hannah Page

Environmental threats are the most pressing risks facing the world over the next decade in terms of likelihood and impact, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has claimed today.

Its Global Risks Report 2021 lists extreme weather, climate action failure, human environmental damage, biodiversity loss and natural resource crises among its top global risks.

The report – which brings together views from 650 decision makers and experts – also warns that the COVID-19 crisis has threatened to impede the global cooperation needed to tackle these risks.

It highlights how the WEF has been warning about the dangers of pandemics for the last 15 years, and how coronavirus has revealed the “catastrophic effects” of ignoring long-term risks.

“We know how difficult it is for governments, business and other stakeholders to address such long-term risks, but the lesson here is for all of us to recognise that ignoring them doesn’t make them less likely to happen,” said WEF managing director, Saadia Zahidi.

“As governments, businesses and societies begin to emerge from the pandemic, they must now urgently shape new economic and social systems that improve our collective resilience and capacity to respond to shocks while reducing inequality, improving health and protecting the planet.”

The report explains how COVID-19 has widened long-standing health, economic and technological disparities, and how financial, digital and reputational pressures also threaten to leave behind many companies and their workforces in the future.

In terms of time frames, it lists infectious diseases, employment crises, digital inequality and youth disillusionment among the challenges presenting a “critical threat to the world” over the next two years.

Knock-on risks, such as asset bubble bursts, IT infrastructure breakdown, price instability and debt crises, are among the most pressing threats over the next three to five years, while weapons of mass destruction, state collapse, biodiversity loss and adverse technological advances are more long-term concerns.

The report also reflects on responses to COVID-19, drawing lessons designed to bolster global resilience, such as building trust through clear and consistent communication, and creating new forms of partnership.

It comes as the WEF prepares to convene world leaders for The Davos Agenda next week, an event that will help shape global economic and political strategies.

“The biggest long-term risk remains a failure to act on climate change,” said Peter Giger, group chief risk officer at Zurich Insurance Group, which helped develop the report. “There is no vaccine against climate risks, so post-pandemic recovery plans must focus on growth aligning with sustainability agendas to build back better.”

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