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.