World Economic Forum
Last year’s Global Risks Report warned of a world that would not easily rebound from continued shocks. As 2024 begins, the 19th edition of the report is set against a backdrop of rapidly accelerating technological change and economic uncertainty, as the world is plagued by a duo of dangerous crises: climate and conflict.
Underlying geopolitical tensions combined with the eruption of active hostilities in multiple regions is contributing to an unstable global order characterized by polarizing narratives, eroding trust and insecurity. At the same time, countries are grappling with the impacts of record-breaking extreme weather, as climate-change adaptation efforts and resources fall short of the type, scale and intensity of climate-related events already taking place. Cost-of-living pressures continue to bite, amidst persistently elevated inflation and interest rates and continued economic uncertainty in much of the world. Despondent headlines are borderless, shared regularly and widely, and a sense of frustration at the status quo is increasingly palpable. Together, this leaves ample room for accelerating risks – like misinformation and disinformation – to propagate in societies that have already been politically and economically weakened in recent years.
Just as natural ecosystems can be pushed to the limit and become something fundamentally new; such systemic shifts are also taking place across other spheres: geostrategic, demographic and technological. This year, we explore the rise of global risks against the backdrop of these “structural forces” as well as the tectonic clashes between them. The next set of global conditions may not necessarily be better or worse than the last, but the transition will not be an easy one.
The report explores the global risk landscape in this phase of transition and governance systems being stretched beyond their limit. It analyses the most severe perceived risks to economies and societies over two and 10 years, in the context of these influential forces. Could we catapult to a 3◦C world as the impacts of climate change intrinsically rewrite the planet? Have we reached the peak of human development for large parts of the global population, given deteriorating debt and geo-economic conditions? Could we face an explosion of criminality and corruption that feeds on more fragile states and more vulnerable populations? Will an “arms race” in experimental technologies present existential threats to humanity?
These transnational risks will become harder to handle as global cooperation erodes. In this year’s Global Risks Perception Survey, two-thirds of respondents predict that a multipolar order will dominate in the next 10 years, as middle and great powers set and enforce – but also contest – current rules and norms. The report considers the implications of this fragmented world, where preparedness for global risks is ever more critical but is hindered by lack of consensus and cooperation. It also presents a conceptual framework for addressing global risks, identifying the scope for “minimum viable effort” for action, depending on the nature of the risk.
The insights in this report are underpinned by nearly two decades of original data on global risk perception. The report highlights the findings from our annual Global Risks Perception Survey, which brings together the collective intelligence of nearly 1,500 global leaders across academia, business, government, the international community and civil society. It also leverages insights from over 200 thematic experts, including the risk specialists that form the Global Risks Report Advisory Board, Global Future Council on Complex Risks, and the Chief Risk Officers Community. We are also deeply grateful to our long-standing partners, Marsh McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, for their invaluable contributions in shaping the themes and narrative of the report. Finally, we would like to express our gratitude to the core team that developed this report – Ellissa Cavaciuti-Wishart, Sophie Heading and Kevin Kohler – and to Ricky Li and Attilio Di Battista for their support.
The future is not fixed. A multiplicity of different futures is conceivable over the next decade. Although this drives uncertainty in the short term, it also allows room for hope. Alongside global risks and the era-defining changes underway lie unique opportunities to rebuild trust, optimism and resilience in our institutions and societies. It is our hope that the report serves as a vital call to action for open and constructive dialogue among leaders of government, business and civil society to take action to minimize global risks and build upon long-term opportunities and solutions.
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