Geopolitical tensions hindering climate action, says WEF

1st February 2019

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Nkechinyere Ogu

Rising geopolitical tension is the most urgent risk facing the world this year and is making it harder to tackle climate change, a survey of nearly 1,000 experts and decision-makers has found.

Published in the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Global Risks Report 2019, the findings show that 90% of respondents expect hostility to grow between major powers this year.

This will leave the world's ability to muster collective action against global challenges at “crisis levels“, according to the report, with environmental threats accounting for four of the top five perceived risks for 2019.

These include extreme weather events, water crises, climate change mitigation and adaptation failure, and natural disasters. Biodiversity loss is also ranked among the top risks.

This comes after a year of historic wildfires, continued heavy flooding and increased greenhouse gas emissions, along with worsening US-China relations and growing tension between the UK and the EU.

“The tension between the globalisation of the world economy and the growing nationalism of world politics is a deepening risk,“ the report states.

“Against this backdrop, it is likely to become more difficult to make collective progress on global challenges like protecting the environment, and the results of climate inaction are becoming increasingly clear.“

A growing frequency in extreme weather events is also expected to increase the level of infrastructure investment needed to respond to climate change and transition to a low-carbon economy.

The report states that $97trn of investment is needed by 2040, but that only $79trn is forecast during that time, with this “infrastructure gap“ likely to widen amid rising floods and droughts.

Zurich Insurance's group chief risk officer, Alison Martin, said it was important for businesses to develop a climate resilience adaptation strategy in response, and to “act on it now“.

Moreover, the report highlights biodiversity loss as a “particular concern“, with species abundance thought to have reduced by 60% since 1970.

“In the human food chain, biodiversity loss is affecting health and socioeconomic development, with implications for wellbeing, productivity and even regional security,“ it concludes.

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