Leaders at the World Economic Forum Recognise that Environmental Risks are the Biggest Risks Facing the World | WWF
Leaders at the World Economic Forum Recognise that Environmental Risks are the Biggest Risks Facing the World

Posted on 16 January 2020

Failure to take action on climate change, biodiversity loss, and water crises were seen as among the top risks.
15 January 2020 (Davos) - According to the World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report 2020, released today, the top five biggest challenges facing the world over the next decade are, for the first time, all related to the environment.
 
The report, based on a survey of more than 750 decision-makers from across business, governments and charities, found that of all the risks facing the world this year, failure to take action on climate change, biodiversity loss, extreme weather, natural disasters and human-made environmental disasters are seen as the most likely to happen. Failure to take action on climate change, biodiversity loss, extreme weather and water crises were also seen as among the top five risks in terms of the enormity of their possible impact.
 
WWF seconds the report’s findings, which clearly indicate that the emergency facing our environment is rightly at the forefront of the minds of many of the world’s most influential people, and that urgent change is needed to protect our planet. Human activity has already caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants – which underpin our food and health systems.
 
This report demonstrates that leaders are finally recognising the catastrophic threats facing the planet and our future - but they still need to actUnless urgent action is taken, risks related to climate change and loss of nature have the potential to harm millions of people, destabilise the global economy which relies on nature for services worth USD$125 trillion every year, and leave businesses - and the communities and economies that depend on them - vulnerable to collapse. We ignore these risks at our peril.” - Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF-International
 
In 2020, governments have the opportunity to step up their commitments to the Paris Agreement on Climate, renew their commitments to the environment under the Sustainable Development Goals, agree a new global biodiversity framework and negotiate the world’s first ever treaty to protect ocean life on the high seas. 
 
To avoid environmental and human catastrophe, WWF and its partners are calling on world leaders to commit to a New Deal for Nature and People this year which aims to halt nature loss and set nature on the path to recovery by 2030.
 
The Climate Change Adaptation Strategy of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) issued in 2019 highlighted some of the expected risks to the economy and ecosystems stemming from climate change, exacerbated by unsustainable land use,” says Irene Lucius, Regional Conservation Director, WWF Central and Eastern Europe. “For example, the habitats and ecosystems in the South-eastern Danube River Basin and on the Great Hungarian Plain are likely to become drier and more wildfires might occur. In different parts of the basin, scientists expect a higher risk of algal blooms and deteriorating water quality in lakes and wetlands. Agricultural pests and diseases might increase and so will the need for costly irrigation. Forests may be impacted by an increasing risk of damage from forest-weakening pests (e.g. bark beetle). However, nature-based solutions can at least partially mitigate such risks. Floodplain restoration can mitigate flood risk and give a boost to biodiversity. Restoring natural forests raises resilience to fire and pests while increasing the capacity of storing carbon. This is why WWF Central and Eastern Europe is calling for a massive investment programme in nature-based solutions as an element of the New Deal for Nature and People.
 
Severe threats to our climate account for all of the Global Risks Report’s top long-term risks, with “economic confrontations” and “domestic political polarisation” recognised as significant short-term risks in 2020. It warns that geopolitical turbulence and the retreat from multilateralism threatens everyone’s ability to tackle shared, critical global risks. Without urgent attention to repairing societal divisions and driving sustainable economic growth, leaders cannot systemically address threats like the climate or biodiversity crises, the report warns.
 
Read the full report here
 
The report sounds the alarm on:
1. Extreme weather events with major damage to property, infrastructure and loss of human life;
2. Failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation by governments and businesses;
3. Human-made environmental damage and disasters, including environmental crime, such as oil spills, and radioactive contamination;
4. 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; and
5. Major natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and geomagnetic storms.
 
To younger generations, the state of the planet is even more alarming. The report highlights how risks are seen by those born after 1980. They ranked environmental risks higher than other respondents, both in the short- and long-terms. Almost 90% of these respondents believe “extreme heat waves,” “destruction of ecosystems” and “health impacted by pollution” will be aggravated in 2020; compared to 77%, 76% and 67% respectively for other generations. They also believe that the impact from environmental risks by 2030 will be more catastrophic and more likely.
 
The report adds that unless stakeholders adapt to “today’s epochal power-shift” and geopolitical turbulence – while still preparing for the future – time will run out to address some of the most pressing economic, environmental and technological challenges. This signals where action by business and policy-makers is most needed.
 
The political landscape is polarised, sea levels are rising and climate fires are burning. This is the year when world leaders must work with all sectors of society to repair and reinvigorate our systems of cooperation, not just for short-term benefit but for tackling our deep-rooted risks,” said Borge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum.
 
Peter Giger, Group Chief Risk Officer, Zurich Insurance Group warned of the urgent need to adapt faster to avoid the worst and irreversible impacts of climate change and to do more to protect the planet’s biodiversity: “Biologically diverse ecosystems capture vast amounts of carbon and provide massive economic benefits that are estimated at $33 trillion per year – the equivalent to the GDP of the US and China combined. It’s critical that companies and policy-makers move faster to transition to a low carbon economy and more sustainable business models. We are already seeing companies destroyed by failing to align their strategies to shifts in policy and customer preferences. Transitionary risks are real, and everyone must play their part to mitigate them. It’s not just an economic imperative; it is simply the right thing to do.”
 
For more information:
Irene Lucius
Regional Conservation Director,
WWF Central and Eastern Europe
ilucius@wwfcee.org

Background
Respondents were asked to assess: (1) the likelihood of a global risk occurring over the course of the next 10 years, and (2) the severity of its impact at a global level if it were to occur.
 
These are the top 5 risks by likelihood over the next 10 years:
1. Extreme weather events (e.g. floods, storms, etc.);
2. Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation;
3. Major natural disasters (e.g. earthquake, tsunami, volcanic eruption, geomagnetic storms);
4. Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse; and
5. Human-made environmental damage and disasters.
 
These are the top 5 risks by severity of impact over the next 10 years:
1. Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation;
2. Weapons of mass destruction;
3. Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse;
4. Extreme weather events (e.g. floods, storms, etc.); and
5. Water crises.
 
The Global Risks Report is part of the Global Risks Initiative which brings stakeholders together to develop sustainable, integrated solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. The Global Risks Report 2020 has been developed with the invaluable support of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Advisory Board. It also benefits from ongoing 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).
Despite extreme events such as forest fires, heatwaves, flooding & more becoming more commonplace as a result of #NatureLoss & the #ClimateCrisis, world leaders still aren’t taking bold action for our home.
© Rohan Kelly