Visualization of the state of global debt by country

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Visualized: A global risk assessment of 2022 and beyond

We’ve navigated turbulent waters since the global pandemic began, and this year looks set to be as unpredictable as ever.

In the latest annual issue of Global Risk Report until World Economic Forum (WEF) found that a majority of global leaders are concerned or concerned about the world’s prospects, and only 3.7% feeling optimistic.

Each year, the report identifies the world’s top risks, identified by nearly 1,000 surveyed experts and leaders across disciplines, organizations and geographies.

Which global risks are executives and experts most concerned about, and which pose an imminent threat? Let’s dive into the report’s key findings.

Methodology for the global risk assessment of the WEF

In the survey, respondents were asked to compare 37 different risks, broken down into five categories: economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological.

To get a sense of which risks are considered more pressing than others, respondents were asked to indicate when they think these threats would become a serious problem for the world based on the following timeframes:

  • Short term threats: 0-2 years
  • Medium-term threats: 2-5 years
  • Long-term threats: 5-10 years

By categorizing global risks into these time horizons, it helps provide a better idea of ​​the issues that policymakers and governments may need to address in the near future and how these risks may be related to one another.

Short term risks

When it comes to short-term threats, respondents identified societal risks such as “the erosion of social cohesion” and “livelihood crises” as the most immediate risks facing the world.

time frame category danger % of respondents
0-2 years 🟢 Environment extreme weather 31.1%
0-2 years 🔴 Social existential crises 30.4%
0-2 years 🟢 Environment Climate protection fails 27.5%
0-2 years 🔴 Social erosion of social cohesion 27.5%
0-2 years 🔴 Social infectious diseases 26.4%
0-2 years 🔴 Social deterioration in mental health 26.1%
0-2 years 🟣 Technological Cybersecurity failure 19.5%
0-2 years 🔵 Economical debt crises 19.3%
0-2 years 🟣 Technological digital inequality 18.2%
0-2 years 🔵 Economical Asset bubble burst 14.2%

These societal risks have intensified since the onset of COVID-19. And while emerging variants threaten our journey toward normalcy, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the world with no immediate signs of slowing.

According to respondents, one problem triggered by the pandemic is increasing inequality, both globally and within countries.

Many developed economies have managed to adapt as office workers shifted to remote and hybrid work, although many industries, like hospitality, still face significant headwinds. Easy access to vaccines has helped these countries mitigate the worst effects of outbreaks.

Regions with little access to vaccines have not been so lucky, and the economic divide may become more pronounced as the pandemic progresses.

Medium-term risks

A majority of respondents believe that we will continue to face pandemic-related issues for the next three years. For this reason, the medium-term risks identified by the respondents are quite similar to the short-term risks.

time frame category danger % of respondents
2-5 years 🟢 Environment Climate protection fails 35.7%
2-5 years 🟢 Environment extreme weather 34.6%
2-5 years 🔴 Social erosion of social cohesion 23.0%
2-5 years 🔴 Social existential crises 20.1%
2-5 years 🔵 Economical debt crises 19.0%
2-5 years 🟢 Environment Human environmental damage 16.4%
2-5 years 🟡 Geopolitical Geoeconomic Confrontations 14.8%
2-5 years 🟣 Technological Cybersecurity failure 14.6%
2-5 years 🟢 Environment loss of biodiversity 13.5%
2-5 years 🔵 Economical Asset bubble burst 12.7%

The urgent problems caused by COVID-19 mean that many key governments and decision-makers are struggling to prioritize long-term planning and are no longer able to help with global problems. For example, the UK government has pushed back its foreign aid target to at least 2024. If countries continue to prioritize mitigating the impact of COVID-19, the inequality gap could widen even further.

Respondents also fear that rising debt could trigger a crisis. Global debt-to-GDP ratios rose 13 percentage points in 2020, a number that is almost certain to increase further in the near future.

Long-term risks

Respondents identified climate change as the greatest threat facing humanity over the next decade.

time frame category danger % of respondents
5-10 years 🟢 Environment Climate protection fails 42.1%
5-10 years 🟢 Environment extreme weather 32.4%
5-10 years 🟢 Environment loss of biodiversity 27.0%
5-10 years 🟢 Environment Natural resource crises 23.0%
5-10 years 🟢 Environment Human environmental damage 21.7%
5-10 years 🔴 Social erosion of social cohesion 19.1%
5-10 years 🔴 Social Involuntary migration 15.0%
5-10 years 🟣 Technological Adverse technical advance 14.9%
5-10 years 🟡 Geopolitical Geoeconomic Confrontations 14.1%
5-10 years 🟡 Geopolitical Dispute over geopolitical resources 13.5%

Climate inaction – essentially business as usual – could result in a global GDP loss of between 4% and 18%, with different impacts in different regions.

Experts also pointed out that current decarbonization commitments made at last year’s COP26 are still not enough to slow warming to the 1.5°C target set in the Paris Climate Agreement, necessitating further action are to reduce environmental risks.

However, efforts to mitigate climate change and solve long-term problems are likely to have negative short-term effects on the global economy and society. Therefore, risk reduction efforts must be made as we work towards achieving net zero and ultimately slowing down climate change.

risk reduction efforts

People’s opinions on risk reduction were measured in the WEF poll. Respondents were asked to identify which risks our world is best prepared for and which they think we are less prepared for.

“Trade facilitation”, “international crime” and “weapons of mass destruction” were risks that respondents felt we had prepared well for. On the other hand, “artificial intelligence” and “cross-border cyberattacks and misinformation” are areas where most respondents say we are most vulnerable.

As society increasingly relies on digital infrastructure, experts predict an increase in cyber attacks and cyber crime. New AI-enabled technologies that offer ransomware-as-a-service enable anyone to engage in cybercrime—even those without the technical skills needed to create malware.

How are we progressing?

Based on the results of this year’s survey, the WEF identified five lessons governments, businesses and decision-makers should use to build resilience and prepare for future challenges:

  1. Build a holistic mitigation framework: Rather than focusing on specific risks, it helps to identify the big picture of the worst-case scenario and work backwards from there. Build holistic systems that protect against negative consequences.
  2. Consider the entire ecosystem: Examine third-party services and external assets and analyze the broader ecosystem in which you operate.
  3. Embrace diversity in resilience strategies: Not all strategies will work consistently. Complex problems require nuanced efforts. Adaptability is key.
  4. Link resilience efforts to other goals: Many resilience efforts could benefit multiple aspects of society. For example, efficient supply chains could empower communities and contribute to environmental goals.
  5. Think of resilience as a journey, not a destination: Staying agile and alert is critical when building resilience programs as these efforts are new and require reflection to improve.

The next few years will be filled with complex challenges, and our best chance to mitigate these global risks is through increased collaboration and resolute reassessment.

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