World “sleepwalking into catastrophe” — WEF

“Out of control.” It’s a catchy headline, even more so when it’s used by the usually conservative, grey-worded team at the World Economic Forum. The Swiss-based organisation has picked it as the title of the 14th edition of their Global Risk report.

Released annually, this sets out the biggest threats faced by humanity for the coming year, and into the future. It gets its data by sending a survey to a thousand people it deems clever enough to peer into the near future and pick what risks worry them the most. Their answers are then weighed up and put into a ranking system.

Traditionally, economic threats such as “asset price collapse” have dominated the list. But in recent years a mix of environmental disasters and the consequences of not doing much about climate change have started to dominate the list. These now make up four of the top five risks, by their likelihood.

The forum lists the risk report on its “essential reading list ahead of Davos”. That’s the annual meeting (networking session) of business leaders, politicians and journalists held in a frozen Swiss town, where people discuss how to run the world.

Use of weapons of mass destruction tops the list in terms of impact — because it would mean immediate and total destruction — but this isn’t seen as something that’s likely to happen this year. So the forum shifts its attention to the election of demagogues (our words) who promise quick solutions to complicated problems.

“Global risks are intensifying but the collective will to tackle them appears to be lacking. Instead, divisions are hardening.” This means energy is being spent on developments inside countries, “weakening collective responses to emerging global challenges”.

And this, the forum warns, is a real problem when climate change is increasing the number of natural disasters and requires a concerted global effort to limit carbon emissions.

Last October, the UN’s climate change body — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — released a report that looks at the difference between a world that warms by 1.5°C and one that warms by 2°C. Keeping warming down is the stated goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which every country in the world agreed to.

The world has already warmed by 1°C. The panel’s report warned that countries needed to do whatever they could to keep warming to 1.5°C — anything above this and island states will be eaten way by rising sea levels, and countries on the African continent will begin to fall apart as rainfall patterns shift dramatically and crops fail.

The UN’s panel said that carbon emissions need to drop by 40% in the next 11 years (by 2030) and then by 100% by 2050. Anything less than this and the world warms to a point where the most vulnerable countries struggle to survive, and then all countries start to fall apart.

The warnings from the UN are echoed by the World Economic Forum. “It appears increasingly unlikely that the world will meet even the 2°C upper limit identified by the Paris Climate Agreement.” Put together, the plans by every country in the world will see the world warming by 3.2°C.

With a fragmenting world and inaction on climate change, the forum concludes that: “We are drifting deeper into global problems from which we will struggle to extricate ourselves.”

The top five risks for 2019

Top risks for 2019 by likelihood 
Extreme weather events (floods, storms); failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation; major natural disasters (earthquake, tsunami); massive incident of data fraud or theft; and large-scale cyber attacks.

Top risks for 2019 by impact
Weapons of mass destruction; failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation; extreme weather events; water crises; and major natural disasters.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is the acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

Related stories


Subscribers only

Zuma tells ANC top six not to hold their breath

Former president Jacob Zuma will only meet ANC leaders if deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo recuses himself from the state capture commission

‘Captured’ water utility exec holes up

Thami Hlongwa seems to be in hiding after a blacklisted technology company scored millions from Umgeni Water and the owner was murdered

More top stories

Pregnant women should be vaccinated, doctors say

New research shows that there has been an increase in maternal deaths during the Covid-19 restriction

Simeone is Atlético’s secret weapon

El Cholo remains true to himself — consistent, totally committed and prepared to graft — and these values are retained by the team

The private-sector players who facilitated public-sector fraud

Let us never forget the private-sector players who facilitated public-sector fraud

Eight things you need to know about the vaccine rollout

About 80 000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine have arrived in South Africa out of the nine million procured — 300 000 to 500 000 are expected to arrive within two months

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…