GENEVA — The World Economic Forum’s annual compendium of the biggest risks facing the planet, released on Wednesday to shape next week’s gathering at the Swiss resort town of Davos, overwhelmingly focuses on the climate crisis.
All of the economic and geopolitical factors in WEF’s 2020 Global Risks report such as increasing polarization and inequality take a perceived back seat to survey respondents’ concerns about dire threats to planetary health from global warming and mass extinctions of species.
“For the first time in the history of the survey, climate-related issues dominated all of the top five long-term risks by likelihood among members of the forum’s multi-stakeholder community,” the report says.
“And members of the Global Shapers Community — the forum’s younger constituents — show even more concern, ranking environmental issues as the top risks in both the short and long terms,” it says.
The report, produced with support from U.S.-based professional services firm Marsh & McLennan and Swiss-based Zurich Insurance Group, predicts a year marked by economic slowdown and rising international conflict.
More than 750 global experts and decision-makers who responded to WEF’s annual survey also were asked to rank their biggest global concerns. Extreme weather, climate inaction, natural disasters, loss of biodiversity and human-caused environmental disasters caused the most worry.
More international collaboration
Threats to international cooperation abound. The “new normal” is turbulence, WEF says in the report, but the world cannot wait for the fog of uncertainty to lift: Global leaders and citizens must find ways to act quickly together on the economy, environment, technology and public health.
“What were once givens regarding alliance structures and multilateral systems no longer hold, as states question the value of longstanding frameworks, adopt more nationalist postures in pursuit of individual agendas and weigh the potential geopolitical consequences of economic decoupling,” the report says.
Among the highest-profile attendees expected in Davos this year are U.S. President Donald Trump, 17-year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. The forum has more than 2,750 registered participants.
Many of the attendees, such as Merkel and von der Leyen, come down on the side of multilateralism, international cooperation and globalization, but leaders such as Trump and Bolsonaro have risen on a tide of populist nationalism.
The Trump administration pulled out of a series of United Nations-affiliated organizations, such as UNESCO and the U.N. Human Rights Council, and major international treaties including the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change and 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed by predecessor Barack Obama’s administration.
WEF’s president Børge Brende, a Norwegian politician who led his country’s foreign, environment and trade ministries, noted the global economy faces a “synchronized” slowdown, global temperatures were the warmest on record for the past five years, and cyberattacks are expected to increase. Meantime, protests against politicians and working conditions continue around the world.
“It is sobering that in the face of this development, when the challenges before us demand immediate collective action, fractures within the global community appear to only be widening,” Brende wrote in the report’s preface.
“On the environment, we note with grave concern the consequences of continued environmental degradation, including the record pace of species decline,” he said. “Unless stakeholders adapt multilateral mechanisms for this turbulent period, the risks that were once on the horizon will continue to arrive.”