Sustained economic decline is the biggest current concern facing the worldwide population, according to a new survey carried out by the Chartered Insurance Institute.
The research, published yesterday in a report entitled Future risk: learning from history, reveals that nearly one in five of those surveyed identified the issue as the biggest risk at the moment. A total of 2,768 people were questioned in Australia, Brazil, Great Britain, India and the United States.
Respondents from Great Britain and the US were the most concerned about economic decline and rising income inequality and were also most pessimistic about their future over the next 40 years.
Approximately one in three people in the UK and US were most concerned about the risk of economic decline - compared to just 7% in Brazil and India.
Instead, respondents in India were most worried about overpopulation, while in Brazil the risk of severe water shortages was the identified as the biggest concern by respondents.
The report is the first of a series of seven the CII plans to publish the year on the changing nature of risk to mark 100 years since it received its Royal Charter. As such, Future risk: learning from history also looks at trends over the past century and what their implications might be for future risk.
In terms of political trends, it concludes that acts of civil war - including terrorism - are now the most common threat to national security, while incidences of conflict between states have 'rescinded'.
The fragile nature of fledgling democracies and regimes in transition is highlighted, while domestic unrest in both undemocratic countries and those seeing lower levels of democratic participation is also raised as a potential risk.
And, while international intervention is identified as a tool to resolve conflicts, the report notes that a key risk is for this intervention to prolong conflicts - as was the case during the Cold War.
Among the risks seen in relation to population trends are an 'unprecedented' increase in life expectancy and decrease in fertility. Rising obesity is a 'systemic threat' to the health of populations worldwide, the report says, while HIV and forms of infectious disease remain prevalent in parts of Africa.
Increased immigration 'poses a number of political, economic and social risks as well as opportunities', the report says, while increased urbanisation also poses a number of risks - in
A number of key trends in energy and environmental issues are identified as future risks - among them the potential for global warming to increase the number of heat-related deaths and incidences of natural disasters.
Continuing rises in greenhouse gas emissions could also warm the planet, with implications for health and the environment, the report says, while natural disasters pose a risk to both human life and economic activity.
While increased demand for energy has driven innovation in this area, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Fukushima meltdown are highlighted as examples of the risks associated with new forms of energy production.
The risk of an energy crisis should be offset by increased use of renewable sources, but the CII notes that this depends on the willingness of countries to shift from fossil fuels.
'Profound and unpredictable' social, economic and political implications could also result if technology develops over the next 50 years at the rate it has over the past century, the report says, noting that advances in travel and telecommunications have created both opportunities and risks.
director of policy and public affairs at the CII, said: 'We face a huge
range of global challenges from the current financial crisis and subsequent eurozone
sovereign debt problems through to the continuing increase in population and
life expectancy, along with the increasing threat of catastrophic weather events
that global warming brings.
'The insurance and financial services sectors must remain one step ahead of these issues to provide the advice and risk management on which clients rely.'