Climate change and environmental threats are dominating the list of long-term risks feared by global leaders, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Its annual report on global risks warns that a “vaccine divide” between rich and poor nations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is undermining efforts to limit temperature rises.
Leaders see a failure to act on climate change as the biggest global risk, followed by extreme weather, biodiversity loss, natural resource crises and human environmental damage.
The erosion of social cohesion, livelihood crises and mental health deterioration were also identified as risks that had increased the most since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago.
Just one in 10 WEF members surveyed expects the global recovery to accelerate during the next three years, while only one in six are optimistic about the world outlook. Most leaders envisaged the next three years to be marked by volatility and shocks, with the economic fallout from the pandemic widening digital, education and skills gaps between winners and losers.
“In some countries, rapid vaccine rollout, successful digital transformations and new growth opportunities could mean a return to pre-pandemic trends in the short term and the possibility of a more resilient outlook over a longer horizon,” the report says.
“Yet many other countries will be held back by low rates of vaccination, continued acute stress on health systems, digital divides and stagnant job markets. These divergences will complicate the international collaboration needed to address the worsening impacts of climate change, manage migration flows and combat dangerous cyber-risks.”
The WEF highlights cybersecurity, a disorderly climate transition, migration pressures and competition in space as key areas of emerging risk. The prospect of 70,000 satellite launches in coming decades, alongside space tourism, are raising risks of collisions and increasing debris in space amid a lack of regulation.