The World Economic Forums - Global Risks Report - a must read
This is reproduced from the World Economic Forum launch page
The Global Risks Report (downloadable from here) explores some of the most severe risks we may face over the next decade, against a backdrop of rapid technological change, economic uncertainty, a warming planet and conflict. As cooperation comes under pressure, weakened economies and societies may only require the smallest shock to edge past the tipping point of resilience.
A deteriorating global outlook
Looking back at the events of
2023, plenty of developments captured the attention of people around the world
– while others received minimal scrutiny. Vulnerable populations grappled with
lethal conflicts, from Sudan to Gaza and Israel, alongside record-breaking heat
conditions, drought, wildfires and flooding. Societal discontent was palpable
in many countries, with news cycles dominated by polarization, violent
protests, riots and strikes. Although globally destabilizing consequences –
such as those seen at the initial outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war or the
COVID-19 pandemic – were largely avoided, the longer-term outlook for these
developments could bring further global shocks.
As we enter 2024, 2023-2024 GRPS
results highlight a predominantly negative outlook for the world over the next
two years that is expected to worsen over the next decade (Figure A). Surveyed
in September 2023, the majority of respondents (54%) anticipate some
instability and a moderate risk of global catastrophes, while another 30%
expect even more turbulent conditions. The outlook is markedly more negative
over the 10-year time horizon, with nearly two-thirds of respondents expecting
a stormy or turbulent outlook.
In this year’s report, we contextualize our analysis through four structural forces that will shape the materialization and management of global risks over the next decade. These are longer-term shifts in the arrangement of and relationship between four systemic elements of the global landscape:
– Trajectories relating to global
warming and related consequences to Earth systems (Climate change).
– Changes in the size, growth and
structure of populations around the world (Demographic bifurcation).
– Developmental pathways for
frontier technologies (Technological acceleration).
– Material evolution in the
concentration and sources of geopolitical power (Geostrategic shifts).
A new set of global conditions is
taking shape across each of these domains and these transitions will be
characterized by uncertainty and volatility. As societies seek to adapt to
these changing forces, their capacity to prepare for and respond to global
risks will be affected.
Environmental risks could hit
the point of no return
Environmental risks continue to
dominate the risks landscape over all three time frames. Two-thirds of GRPS
respondents rank Extreme weather as the top risk most likely to present a
material crisis on a global scale in 2024 (Figure B), with the warming phase of
the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle projected to intensify and
persist until May this year. It is also seen as the second-most severe risk
over the two-year time frame and similar to last year’s rankings, nearly all
environmental risks feature among the top 10 over the longer term (Figure C).
However, GRPS respondents disagree about the urgency of environmental risks, in particular Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse and Critical change to Earth systems. Younger respondents tend to rank these risks far more highly over the two-year period compared to older age groups, with both risks featuring in their top 10 rankings in the short term. The private sector highlights these risks as top concerns over the longer term, in contrast to respondents from civil society or government who prioritize these risks over shorter time frames. This dissonance in perceptions of urgency among key decision-makers implies sub-optimal alignment and decision-making, heightening the risk of missing key moments of intervention, which would result in long-term changes to planetary systems.
Chapter 2.3: A 3◦C world explores
the consequences of passing at least one “climate tipping point” within the
next decade. Recent research suggests that the threshold for triggering
long-term, potentially irreversible and self-perpetuating changes to select
planetary systems is likely to be passed at or before 1.5◦C of global warming,
which is currently anticipated to be reached by the early 2030s. Many economies
will remain largely unprepared for “non-linear” impacts: the triggering of a
nexus of several related socioenvironmental risks has the potential to speed up
climate change, through the release of carbon emissions, and amplify related
impacts, threatening climate-vulnerable populations. The collective ability of
societies to adapt could be overwhelmed, considering the sheer scale of
potential impacts and infrastructure investment requirements, leaving some
communities and countries unable to absorb both the acute and chronic effects
of rapid climate change.
As polarization grows and
technological risks remain unchecked, ‘truth’ will come under pressure
Societal polarization features among the top three risks over both the current and two-year time horizons, ranking #9 over the longer term. In addition, Societal polarization and Economic downturn are seen as the most interconnected – and therefore influential – risks in the global risks network (Figure D), as drivers and possible consequences of numerous risks.
Emerging as the most severe global risk anticipated over the next two years, foreign and domestic actors alike will leverage Misinformation and disinformation to further widen societal and political divides (Chapter 1.3: False information). As close to three billion people are expected to head to the electoral polls across several economies – including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and the United States – over the next two years, the widespread use of misinformation and disinformation, and tools to disseminate it, may undermine the legitimacy of newly elected governments. Resulting unrest could range from violent protests and hate crimes to civil confrontation and terrorism.
Beyond elections, perceptions of
reality are likely to also become more polarized, infiltrating the public
discourse on issues ranging from public health to social justice. However, as
truth is undermined, the risk of domestic propaganda and censorship will also
rise in turn. In response to mis- and disinformation, governments could be
increasingly empowered to control information based on what they determine to
be “true”. Freedoms relating to the internet, press and access to wider sources
of information that are already in decline risk descending into broader
repression of information flows across a wider set of countries.
Economic strains on low- and
middle-income people – and countries – are set to grow
The Cost-of-living crisis remains
a major concern in the outlook for 2024 (Figure B). The economic risks of
Inflation (#7) and Economic downturn (#9) are also notable new entrants to the
top 10 risk rankings over the two-year period (Figure C). Although a “softer
landing” appears to be prevailing for now, the near-term outlook remains highly
uncertain. There are multiple sources of continued supply-side price pressures
looming over the next two years, from El Niño conditions to the potential
escalation of live conflicts. And if interest rates remain relatively high for
longer, small- and medium-sized enterprises and heavily indebted countries will
be particularly exposed to debt distress (Chapter 1.5: Economic uncertainty).
Economic uncertainty will weigh
heavily across most markets, but capital will be the costliest for the most
vulnerable countries. Climate-vulnerable or conflict-prone countries stand to
be increasingly locked out of much-needed digital and physical infrastructure,
trade and green investments and related economic opportunities. As the adaptive
capacities of these fragile states erodes further, related societal and
environmental impacts are amplified.
Similarly, the convergence of
technological advances and geopolitical dynamics will likely create a new set
of winners and losers across advanced and developing economies alike (Chapter
2.4: AI in charge). If commercial incentives and geopolitical imperatives,
rather than public interest, remain the primary drivers of the development of
artificial intelligence (AI) and other frontier technologies, the digital gap
between high- and low-income countries will drive a stark disparity in the
distribution of related benefits – and risks. Vulnerable countries and
communities would be left further behind, digitally isolated from turbocharged
AI breakthroughs impacting economic productivity, finance, climate, education
and healthcare, as well as related job creation.
Over the longer term,
developmental progress and living standards are at risk. Economic,
environmental and technological trends are likely to entrench existing
challenges around labour and social mobility, blocking individuals from income
and skilling opportunities, and therefore the ability to improve economic
status (Chapter 2.5: End of development?). Lack of economic opportunity is a
top 10 risk over the two-year period, but is seemingly less of a concern for
global decision-makers over the longer-term horizon, dropping to #11 (Figure
E). High rates of job churn – both job creation and destruction – have the
potential to result in deeply bifurcated labour markets between and within
developed and developing economies. While the productivity benefits of these
economic transitions should not be underestimated, manufacturing- or
services-led export growth might no longer offer traditional pathways to
greater prosperity for developing countries.
The narrowing of individual
pathways to stable livelihoods would also impact metrics of human development –
from poverty to access to education and healthcare. Marked changes in the
social contract as intergenerational mobility declines would radically reshape
societal and political dynamics in both advanced and developing economies.
tensions combined with technology will drive new security risks
As both a product and driver of
state fragility, Interstate armed conflict is a new entrant into the top risk
rankings over the two-year horizon (Figure C). As the focus of major powers
becomes stretched across multiple fronts, conflict contagion is a key concern
(Chapter 1.4: Rise in conflict). There are several frozen conflicts at risk of
heating up in the near term, due to spillover threats or growing state
This becomes an even more
worrying risk in the context of recent technological advances. In the absence
of concerted collaboration, a globally fragmented approach to regulating
frontier technologies is unlikely to prevent the spread of its most dangerous
capabilities and, in fact, may encourage proliferation (Chapter 2.4: AI in
charge). Over the longer-term, technological advances, including in generative
AI, will enable a range of non-state and state actors to access a superhuman
breadth of knowledge to conceptualize and develop new tools of disruption and
conflict, from malware to biological weapons.
In this environment, the lines
between the state, organized crime, private militia and terrorist groups would
blur further. A broad set of non-state actors will capitalize on weakened
systems, cementing the cycle between conflict, fragility, corruption and crime.
Illicit economic activity (#31) is one of the lowest-ranked risks over the
10-year period but is seen to be triggered by a number of the top-ranked risks
over the two- and 10-year horizons (Figure D). Economic hardship – combined
with technological advances, resource stress and conflict – is likely to push
more people towards crime, militarization or radicalization and contribute to
the globalization of organized crime in targets and operations (Chapter 2.6:
The growing internationalization
of conflicts by a wider set of powers could lead to deadlier, prolonged warfare
and overwhelming humanitarian crises. With multiple states engaged in proxy,
and perhaps even direct warfare, incentives to condense decision time through
the integration of AI will grow. The creep of machine intelligence into
conflict decision-making – to autonomously select targets and determine
objectives – would significantly raise the risk of accidental or intentional
escalation over the next decade.
Ideological and geoeconomic divides will disrupt the future of governance
A deeper divide on the
international stage between multiple poles of power and between the Global
North and South would paralyze international governance mechanisms and divert
the attention and resources of major powers away from urgent global risks.
Asked about the global political
outlook for cooperation on risks over the next decade, two-thirds of GRPS
respondents feel that we will face a multipolar or fragmented order in which
middle and great powers contest, set and enforce regional rules and norms. Over
the next decade, as dissatisfaction with the continued dominance of the Global
North grows, an evolving set of states will seek a more pivotal influence on
the global stage across multiple domains, asserting their power in military,
technological and economic terms.
As states in the Global South
bear the brunt of a changing climate, the aftereffects of pandemic-era crises
and geoeconomic rifts between major powers, growing alignment and political
alliances within this historically disparate group of countries could increasingly
shape security dynamics, including implications for high-stakes hotspots: the
Russia-Ukraine war, the Middle East conflict and tensions over Taiwan (Chapter
1.4: Rise in conflict). Coordinated efforts to isolate “rogue” states are
likely to be increasingly futile, while international governance and
peacekeeping efforts shown to be ineffective at “policing” conflict could be
The shifting balance of influence
in global affairs is particularly evident in the internationalization of
conflicts – where pivotal powers will increasingly lend support and resources
to garner political allies – but will also shape the longer-term trajectory and
management of global risks more broadly. For example, access to highly
concentrated tech stacks will become an even more critical component of soft
power for major powers to cement their influence. However, other countries with
competitive advantages in upstream value chains – from critical minerals to
high-value IP and capital – will likely leverage these economic assets to
obtain access to advanced technologies, leading to novel power dynamics.
Opportunities for action to
address global risks in a fragmented world
Cooperation will come under
pressure in this fragmented, in-flux world. However there remain key
opportunities for action that can be taken locally or internationally,
individually or collaboratively – that can significantly reduce the impact of
Localized strategies leveraging
investment and regulation can reduce the impact of those inevitable risks that
we can prepare for, and both the public and private sector can play a key role
to extend these benefits to all. Single breakthrough endeavors, grown through
efforts to prioritize the future and focus on research and development, can
similarly help make the world a safer place. The collective actions of
individual citizens, companies and countries may seem insignificant on their
own, but at critical mass they can move the needle on global risk reduction.
Finally, even in a world that is increasingly fragmented, cross-border
collaboration at scale remains critical for risks that are decisive for human
security and prosperity.
The next decade will usher in a
period of significant change, stretching our adaptive capacity to the limit. A
multiplicity of entirely different futures is conceivable over this time frame,
and a more positive path can be shaped through our actions to address global