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Davos climate obsessions contain clues for policymaking – The environment has replaced the economy and finance on the global elite’s worry list

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Desdemona Despair

By Gillian Tett
17 January 2019

(Financial Times) – What are the biggest risks stalking the world today? A cynic might gripe that the list is so depressingly long that it is pointless even to try to choose: populism, cyber attacks, trade wars, weather shocks and global debt are all on the rise.

However, during the past decade the World Economic Forum has asked its members to rank their worries in terms of likelihood and impact, ahead of its annual meeting in Davos. And while this poll is limited in scope — WEF members are drawn, of course, from the global elite of corporate executives, government officials, NGO activists and the media — the results are nevertheless thought-provoking.

This year’s “worry” list, for example, is dominated by climate change concerns: Davosians apparently fear that extreme weather events are becoming more common, and that the world has no effective mechanism to respond. Climate issues account for three of the five risks deemed most likely to materialise in 2019 — and four of the top five risks that could cause the most damage. The only other topics cited are weapons of mass destruction, and cyber risks.

That might seem unremarkable. After all, the survey was carried out in the autumn of 2018, a year marked by extreme weather events, which, it is becoming clear, are damaging some companies’ bottom lines. Pacific Gas and Electric is just the latest case in point — as well as a warning.

But what is more striking is how this worry list has changed since the WEF started its survey. A decade ago, what worried Davosians was the economy and the financial system. When asked about which dangers were most likely to materialise, they cited “asset price collapse”, and “slowing Chinese economy” first. And the risks perceived to cause most damage were “asset price collapse”, “retreat from globalisation”, “oil and gas price spike”, and “fiscal crises”. The only non-financial issue cited was “pandemic”. The environment was not mentioned at all. [more]

Davos climate obsessions contain clues for policymaking

17 January 2019 (WEF) – The Global Risks Report 2019 is published against a backdrop of worrying geopolitical and geo-economic tensions. If unresolved, these tensions will hinder the world’s ability to deal with a growing range of collective challenges, from the mounting evidence of environmental degradation to the increasing disruptions of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The report presents the results of our latest Global Risks Perception Survey, in which nearly 1,000 decision-makers from the public sector, private sector, academia and civil society assess the risks facing the world. Nine out of 10 respondents expect worsening economic and political confrontations between major powers this year. Over a ten-year horizon, extreme weather and climate-change policy failures are seen as the gravest threats.

This year’s report includes another series of “what-if” Future Shocks that examine quantum computing, weather manipulation, monetary populism, emotionally responsive artificial intelligence, and other potential risks. The theme of emotions is also addressed in a chapter on the human causes and effects of global risks; the chapter calls for greater action around rising levels of psychological strain across the world.

The Global Risks Report 2019


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