Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

22 Jan 2019

Even the powerful are getting worried

Posted by Michael Keating

This week some of the richest and most powerful people in the world are at the annual World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort town of Davos. Usually, the focus is on keeping the global economy running smoothly. Now the winds of environmental change are blowing through these corridors of power. Before the meeting the forum published the Global Risks Report 2019, with a stark assessment of the future. While issues such as economic instability, trade wars, cyber-attacks and the instability of some states were part of the list of concerns, the report opens with the statement: “Environmental risks continue to dominate the results of our annual Global Risks Perception Survey. This year, they accounted for three of the top five risks by likelihood and four by impact.” People were worried about extreme weather and rising sea levels as the result of climate change, and about a failure of the world to reduce the risks and to prepare for the coming changes. The report also highlighted biodiversity loss, saying species abundance has dropped by 60 per cent since 1970, “affecting health and socioeconomic development, with implications for well-being, productivity, and even regional security.”

The report worries about the world’s willingness to tackle the big problems given the hardening of political and social divisions within and among many countries. A growing number of countries are looking inward and turning away from the multilateral institutions built up over the past 70 years. “Global risks are intensifying but the collective will to tackle them appears to be lacking,” the report warns, saying the world appears to be “sleepwalking” into crisis. “We are drifting deeper into global problems from which we will struggle to extricate ourselves.”

Today, the opening was dominated by environmental issues. Prominent British naturalist Sir David Attenborough said there have been so many changes to the planet that “the Garden of Eden is no more.” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that leaders who deny or fail to do enough to deal with climate change are on the wrong side of history. She said they just have to look at receding shorelines in the Pacific to see how a warming planet is causing sea levels to rise. She said wants to bring the New Zealand Maori philosophy of ‘guardianship’ of the environment into politics and get leaders to think beyond election cycles.

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