WEF’s Global Risks Report for 2017, released on Wednesday (11 January), revealed that climate change was the second largest underlying trend that could damage global development through to 2027. The report, now in its 12th edition, marks the first time that all five environmental risks – biodiversity loss, lack of climate change mitigation, man-made environmental disasters, natural disaster and extreme weather events – in the survey were ranked as high risk and high likelihood.

“Urgent action is needed among leaders to identify ways to overcome political or ideological differences and work together to solve critical challenges,” WEF’s head of global competitiveness and risk Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz said.

“The momentum of 2016 towards addressing climate change shows this is possible, and offers hope that collective action at the international level aimed at resetting other risks could also be achieved.”

The annual survey report, which enlisted the knowledge of 750 experts to assess 30 global risks, warned that the positive momentum gained from the ratification of the Paris Agreement was at risk from high-profile disruptions to the political landscape in the UK and US regarding Brexit and president-elect Donald Trump.

WEF has called on world leaders to agree to a course of action that alleviates the difficulty and uncertainty surrounding these changes, in order to tackle pressing economic, societal and environmental risks.

Fourth Industrial Revolution

One tool that leaders can turn to, although WEF also claims that a lack of uptake in this area is cause for concern, is the growth of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The report noted that 12 emerging technologies can aid in the transition to the low-carbon economy.

Of these, WEF highlighted Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics to hold the greatest potential to enhance the global decarbonisation process. However, these technologies could just as easily exacerbate global risks, WEC noted, if not governed sufficiently.

Commenting on the findings – insurance firm Marsh’s president of global risk and specialties John Drzik – who helped prepare the report – said: “AI will enable us to address some of the great issues of our age, such as climate change and population growth, much more effectively.

“With investment into AI now ten times higher than it was five years ago, rapid advances are already being made. However, increased reliance on AI will dramatically exacerbate existing risks, such as cyber, making the development of mitigation measures just as crucial.”

Climate change and cyber security were also highlighted as two of the major concerns for companies that will be subjected to an increasingly “unpredictable business environment” in 2017, by German banking giant Allianz.

The groups analysis, also released 11 January, echoed a previous World Energy Council report in warning that an uptake in digitisation through devices such as smart metres would open new avenues for cyber-attacks that could damage communities and the economy.

Matt Mace

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