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Severe environmental threats account for the top long term risks identified in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2020, while risks associated with economic and political polarization are expected to top the risk league table in 2020.

For the first time in the survey’s 10-year outlook, the top five global risks in terms of likelihood are all environmental and include:

  • Extreme weather events with major damage to property, infrastructure and loss of human life;
  • Failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation by governments and businesses;
  • Human-made environmental damage and disasters, including environmental crime, such as oil spills, and radioactive contamination;
  • Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse (terrestrial or marine) with irreversible consequences for the environment, resulting in severely depleted resources for humankind as well as industries;
  • Major natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and geomagnetic storms.

For 2020, the report forecasts a year of increased domestic and international divisions and economic slowdown. Geopolitical turbulence is propelling us towards an ‘unsettled’ unilateral world of great power rivalries at a time when business and government leaders must focus urgently on working together to tackle shared risks.

The report says that collaboration between world leaders, businesses and policy-makers is needed more than ever to stop severe threats to our climate, environment, public health and technology systems. This points to a clear need for a multistakeholder approach to mitigating risk at a time when the world cannot wait for the fog of geopolitical disorder to lift.

The percentage of respondents who think a risk will increase in 2020:

  • Economic confrontations = 78.5 percent
  • Domestic political polarization = 78.4 percent
  • Extreme heat waves = 77.1 percent
  • Destruction of natural resource ecosystems = 76.2 percent
  • Cyberattacks: infrastructure = 76.1 percent.

The Global Risks Report 2020 was  developed with the support of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Advisory Board and from collaboration with its strategic partners Marsh & McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group and its academic advisers at the Oxford Martin School (University of Oxford), the National University of Singapore and the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center (University of Pennsylvania).

Over 750 global experts and decision-makers were asked to rank their biggest concerns in terms of likelihood and impact.

Read the report (PDF).

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