Climate change key global risk, WEF finds

11 January 2017

The global risk landscape is now dominated by environmental concerns, with environmental risks dominating the list of those most likely, according to the World Economic Forum's (WEF) newly published Global Risks Report 2017. Climate change is one of the most impactful risks the world is currently facing, ranking alongside income inequality and societal polarisation as top trends for 2017.

The report is drawn from an annual survey of 750 experts from business, academia, civil society and governments who were asked to assess 30 global risks and 13 underlying trends that could amplify them or alter the interconnectedness between them.

For the first time in the report's 12-year history, all five environmental risks assessed - extreme weather events, a failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, major natural disasters, and man-made environmental damage and disasters - were all ranked within the ten most likely and most impactful risks facing the world. Extreme weather events were ranked the single most likely global risk.

Launching the report in London today, Margareta Drzeniek, WEF's head of global competitiveness and risks, said the evolution of risks since 2007 was "striking" in that environmental risks had come to the fore and had now overtaken economic risks.

The WEF report categorises risks as economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technical, and recognises that risks are interconnected. For example failure of climate change mitigation in turn connects to other environmental risks such as man-made environmental disasters and extreme weather events; geopolitical risks such as the failure of regional or global governance; and societal risks such as food and water crises and large-scale involuntary migration.

Environmental collaboration a 'hopeful light'

While the risks posed by deepening social and cultural polarization impair national decision-making processes and can obstruct vital global collaboration, the report highlights significant progress during 2016 in the climate change area. Notable achievements included the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change, now ratified by more than 110 countries; the agreement of an amendment to the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances that could help avoid an additional 0.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2050 through reducing the use of hydrofluorocarbons; and the agreement by the International Civil Aviation Organisation of measures to limit net growth in aviation emissions after 2020, significant because international aviation, like shipping, falls outside the scope of the Paris Agreement.

"Urgent action is needed among leaders to identify ways to overcome political or ideological differences and work together to solve global challenges," Drzeniek said. "The momentum of 2016 towards addressing climate change shows this is possible, and offers hope that collective action at the international level aimed at resetting other risks could also be achieved," she said.

WEF managing board member Richard Samans said the progress on environmental risks shone a "hopeful light" on prospects for collaboration but added that risks were arguably becoming more serious. He said the Paris Agreement appeared to be "very durable", and despite "political turbulence", particularly in the USA, had marked a reaffirmation by the parties to press on with their commitments.

On the other hand, he said, even with the national commitments under the Paris Agreement, the world remained on a trajectory not for a 2 degree increase in net warming, but for 3 degrees or more. "Climate change is interrelated with some of the other important environmental risks … not least migration," he said. An estimated 21.5 million people had been displaced by climate or weather-related events each year since 2008, he said. "The bottom line is that these various aspects of environmental risks act like a force multiplier - or risk multiplier - on a range of the social, geopolitical and other risks that the report highlights," he said.

Cecilia Reyes, chief risk officer at WEF's strategic partner Zurich Insurance Group, said that the world was heading in the right direction but needed to accelerate its climate change actions to limit temperature increases to 2 degrees. The path was now set, she said: "One administration cannot change the trajectory of the actions taking place."

The new report will underpin proceedings at WEF's annual meeting, to be held in Davos, Switzerland from 17-20 January.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News