Anyone who follows the insights revealed at the World Economic Forum each year benefits from their annual Global Risk Report that distills complex information from around the globe into a simple color-coded chart that reveals the greatest threats to our planet in any given year. These risks I color coded into five groups: Economic, Environmental, Geopolitical, Societal, and Technological. What is most striking about these reports if what they reveal when viewed side-by-side, year after year, and what those worrying patterns predict about our future.
A quick review all the Top Global Risks leading up to 2010 will reveal the predominance of economic challenges around the globe that manifested themselves in the Global Economic Meltdown and the fallout that occurred from Wall Street to Main Street around the world. Yet starting in 2011 a dramatic change began to take place. A review of all the Top Global Risk in the last five years reveals a dramatic shift from economic concerns to societal risks, including income disparity and large-scale involuntary migration. In fact, between 2012 and 2016 economic risks fell out of the picture altogether, and by 2016 disappeared from the top five global risks altogether.
What we are witnessing is the growing impact of compounding social crises that are starting to take an increasing toll on the majority of the world’s population. The interconnectivity of such global crises cannot be overstated in that, for example, a lack of access to water is directly connected to social instability and involuntary migration as evidenced by Global Risks Interconnections Map below. At the same time three of the greatest risks to our environmental include extreme weather events, the failure to adapt to climate change and major natural catastrophes.
Seen in this context the latest list of top five global risks is a loud wake up call that the way we treat the planet itself is now threatening the survival of our species on an unprecedented scale. Collaborative commitments such as the Paris Climate Accord are cause for optimism. Yet if the Global Risk Report is any guide, the urgency for action is rising exponentially. The very planet on which we depend and the quality of life for the vast majority of people is being compromised to a degree that the very sustainability of life is coming to question. This is not cause for more theorizing or argument, but rather deliberate action on an unprecedented scale. No doubt environmental challenges will continue to dominate the report as decades of irresponsible environmental behavior play out to their logical conclusion, and one can only hope that the swiftness of our collaborative response can meet the scale of these challenges with equal force.
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