Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, The World Economic Forum (WEF) describes itself as “an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.” The WEF hosts conferences, sponsors initiatives, and publishes research, such as its annual global risks report.
Global Risks 2013 is the eighth such report. Fifty global risks in five categories (economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal, and technological) were assessed in terms of “the likelihood of occurring over the next 10 years and the impact if the risk were to occur.” Risks whose potential for harm make them “centres of gravity” in their categories are major systemic financial failure, failure of climate change adaptation, global governance failure, water supply crises, and critical systems failure, respectively.
Risks were found to be related to one another, as shown on the Risk Interconnection Map below, which was “constructed so that more connected risks are closer to the centre, while weakly connected risks are further out. The strength of the line depends on how many people had selected that particular combination.”
Risks with the highest likelihood, regardless of category, are severe income disparity, chronic fiscal imbalances, rising greenhouse gas emissions, water supply crises, and mismanagement of population ageing.
This assessment of global risk is based on a survey of “top experts and high-level leaders from business, academia, NGOs, international organizations, the public sector and civil society” from 101 countries. A total of 1,234 participated, 368 from Europe, 327 from North America, 274 from Asia, 116 from Latin America, 77 from the Middle East/North Africa, and 72 from Sub-Saharan Africa.
It is imperative that the report have an international perspective, because “by their nature, global risks do not respect national borders…. Extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change will not limit their effects to countries that are major greenhouse gas emitters; false information posted on social networks can spread like wildfire to the other side of the globe in a matter of milliseconds; and genes that make bacteria resistant to our strongest antibiotics can hitch a ride with patients on an intercontinental flight.”
The objectives of the annual global risks report are “to orient and inform decision-makers as they seek to make sense of an increasingly complex and fast-changing world” and to “highlight the need for strengthening existing mechanisms to mitigate and manage risks, which today primarily exist at the national level. This means that while we can map and describe global risks, we cannot predict when and how they will manifest; therefore, building national resilience to global risks is of paramount importance.”
If a word to the wise were sufficient, this report would set decision-makers off in the right direction to address global threats, but their reponse, or lack of response, to previous reports from international authorities warning about the multiple crises facing mankind suggests that they are impervious to such information.