Income gap between rich and poor is biggest global risk

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Switzerland

Children begging in India
Children begging in India
The income gap between rich and poor is seen as the biggest threat to the world over the coming decade, according to World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) Global Risks 2014 report, released yesterday (January 16) in advance of next week’s meeting of political and business leaders in Davos, Switzerland.

After income disparity, the report predicted extreme weather events as the risk next most likely to cause systemic shock on a global scale. This was followed by unemployment and underemployment, and then other climate change effects such as water shortages, it claimed.

Global cyberattacks – a scenario dramatically described by WEF as “cybergeddon”​ – and loss of confidence in the internet were also expected to pose a significant threat. “Trust in the internet is declining as a result of data misuse, hacking and privacy intrusion,”​ said Axel Lehmann, chief risk officer at Zurich Insurance Group.

The report which canvassed the opinions of over 700 experts globally from governments, businesses, academia and non-governmental organisations, assessed 31 risks that are global in nature and have the potential to cause significant negative impact. The risks were grouped under five classifications – economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological – and measured in terms of their likelihood and potential impact.

‘Balkanisation’ of financial markets

John Drzik, president of global risk and specialties at US insurance company Marsh & McLennan Companies, spoke of the dangers presented by the increasing “Balkanisation”​ of financial markets around the globe together with regulatory restrictions that were inhibiting essential structural investments in developing countries.

Drzik said: “As a consequence of rising geopolitical risk we see global governance weakening. Multilateral institutions are finding it harder to reach global agreements on key issues, whether it is climate change or other examples – internet governance, which will be important to deal with cyber risk and our capacity to solve global problems more generally is weakened.”

“We see this having an impact on the business community and key sectors that are into global economic development, like financial services, healthcare and energy.”

Fiscal crises feature as the global risk that experts believe has the potential to have the biggest impact on systems and countries. This economic risk is followed by two environmental risks – climate change and water crises – then unemployment and underemployment, and fifth critical information infrastructure breakdown, a technological risk.

‘Failure on a global scale’

“Each risk considered in this report holds the potential for failure on a global scale; however, it is their interconnected nature that makes their negative implications so pronounced as together they can have an augmented effect,”​ said Jennifer Blanke, WEF chief economist . “It is vitally important that stakeholders work together to address and adapt to the presence of global risks in our world today.”

The report’s authors added that there was also increasing risk of individual countries becoming more insular and short-term in an attempt to protect themselves against global problems rather than collaborating internationally to find solutions.

Real dangers of political and social instability were presented by over 50% of young people in some developed countries currently looking for work and rising informal employment in developing regions where 90% of the world’s youth live, unless measures were taken to mitigate this risk, the report concluded.

David Cole, group chief risk officer for insurance group Swiss Re, described what he called the “train wreck” ​of “a lost generation”​ of young people.

Cole said: “As a result of the financial crisis and globalisation, the younger generation in the mature markets struggle with ever fewer job opportunities and the need to support an ageing population.

“While in the emerging markets there are more jobs to be had, the workforce does not yet possess the broad based skill-sets necessary to satisfy demand.”

Read the WEF report here​. 

Related news

Show more

Related product

Carbon Reduction for Large Energy Users

Carbon Reduction for Large Energy Users

ESB Energy | 12-Nov-2021 | Product Brochure

ESB Energy Business Solutions can help you meet your companies carbon targets by 2050. We offer a range of sustainable tailored solutions to reduce the...

1 comment

The Rich are the greatest Risk to the Rich but they do not know it, YET !

Posted by Dr David Hill,

This is pure hypocrisy on the part of the super rich and our political leaders at the highest level of the wealthy and powerful, as it is these people who have caused this dire state of inequality throughout the world and made it an increasing scourge in reality for humanity.

But because they are totally controlled by obscene wealth (the top 100 adults increased their wealth last year by $240 billion according to Oxfam's recent report and this could solve world poverty 4-times over), they will never take any notice until global conflict is part of the daily way of life, not just in the developing world but in the UK, USA, EU and throughout all western developed nations.

With a mere 0.7% of adults owning 41% of the world's wealth and 10% owning 86% of the world's wealth according to Credit Suisse, it is no wonder that even WEF have suddenly realised the threat to their comfort zone. But we could have told them that years ago without even a survey -

Dr David Hill
World Innovation Foundation

Report abuse

Follow us


View more