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Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

26 Jan 2021

Global risks

Posted by Michael Keating

According to a global panel of experts we have had, “a year ravaged by a global pandemic, economic downturn, political turmoil and the ever-worsening climate crisis.” What next? First, a struggle to recover. The impacts of COVID-19 “…threaten to scale back years of progress on reducing global poverty and inequality and further damage social cohesion and global cooperation.” What else? The experts list emerging risks to human health, rising unemployment, widening digital divides, youth disillusionment, and geopolitical fragmentation. But the biggest long-threat to our well-being is the steady, seemingly inexorable march of climate change. While the change seems steady, the panel worries that climate change will not be slow and even but will involve sudden and dramatic changes called tipping points, such as the release of frozen methane that could cause a spurt in global warming and a dramatic rise in sea levels. “We are on the path to triggering climate tipping points that could create runaway and irreversible damage that will be an existential threat to future generations.”

The Global Risks Report 2021 is the 16th in a series of reports prepared every year for the World Economic Forum, an annual meeting of the world’s rich, powerful, famous, knowledgeable and influential, including leaders from government, business, civil society and the media. This week, instead of gathering in the exclusive Swiss ski resort town of Davos, they, like millions of others, are holding virtual meetings. The economic forum was created in 1971 to introduce the American business management approach to European firms. It has evolved into a meeting to discuss critical global issues, including their impacts on business.

Top Risks
By likelihood
Top Risks
By impact
Extreme weatherInfectious diseases
Climate action failureClimate action failure
Human environmental damageWeapons of mass destruction
Infectious diseasesBiodiversity loss
Biodiversity lossNatural resource crises
Digital power concentrationHuman environmental damage
Digital inequalityLivelihood crises
Interstate relations fractureExtreme weather
Cybersecurity failureDebt crises
Livelihood crisesIT infrastructure breakdown

Source: World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2021

The report says the pandemic caused by one of the deadliest viruses in history is seen as relatively short term. However, “…the global economy will be threatened by the knock-on effects of the coronavirus crisis, while geopolitical stability will be critically fragile over the next 5 to 10 years.” These effects “…threaten to scale back years of progress on reducing global poverty and inequality and further damage social cohesion and global cooperation.” Problems facing the world are the huge debt crisis caused by countries borrowing to keep people afloat, a deepening digital divide as poor struggle for access to modern technology. In addition, “youth face new barriers to social mobility, strains on mental health, uncertain economic prospects and the continued degradation of the planet.” The crisis has caused terrible unemployment, especially affecting working women. It has put great strain on many fragile health systems. It has slowed down or even stopped education for millions of young.

Forest fire burns house Credit: Park Insurance

The report warns it will take a historic effort to recover and to rebuild economies that keep people safe, healthy and employed but to redirect development to green economies, not just more of the old, polluting and environmentally destructive ways.

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