The annual report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) warns the world is headed for a perfect storm over the next decade because of a combination of steadily rising greenhouse gas emissions, persistent economic weakness and staggering debt, and severe income disparity.
The Global Risks 2013 report – informed by a survey of more than 1,000 experts and industry leaders - identifies the resistance to addressing climate change as one of the most dangerous trends.
"Continued stress on the global economic system is positioned to absorb the attention of leaders for the foreseeable future," notes the report. "Meanwhile, the Earth's environmental system is simultaneously coming under increasing stress. Future simultaneous shocks to both systems could trigger the 'perfect global storm' with potentially insurmountable consequences."
“Coping with the economic and climate change crises is unfortunately no longer seen as a continuum, but as opposing choices. The idea has gained ground that we can't have solutions to both. But we need to go beyond this thinking-in-boxes approach. So because smart risk management is about taking a holistic stance on situations, we should do the same when it comes to the economic and climate change challenges we're facing,” says David Cole, Group Chief Risk Officer of Swiss Re.
The report analyzes three particular areas of concern, which will be the subject of special sessions at the next WEF gathering, January 23-27 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland.
Economy and Environment under Stress - is derailing the will and resources to tackle climate change.
Health and Hubris - antibiotic resistance could push overburdened health systems to the brink and our "hyperconnected world" allows pandemics to spread.
Digital Wildfires - democratization of information is a force for good but can also have "volatile and unpredictable consequences."
"By their nature, global risks do not respect national borders, as highlighted in this report," says Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of WEF. "And we now know that extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change will not limit their effects to countries that are major greenhouse gas emitters; false information posted on social networks can spread like wildfire to the other side of the globe in a matter of milliseconds; and genes that make bacteria resistant to our strongest antibiotics can hitch a ride with patients on an intercontinental flight."
Among the most immediate and urgent risks from more than 50 outlined in the report are the worldwide financial crisis, global water supply crisis, and a worldwide food shortage. In the report, WEF lays the groundwork for a new country resilience rating that would help leaders benchmark their progress against these risks.
Last year, sustainable agriculture made it onto the agenda, when it launched a roadmap to increase food production, cut emissions and reduce poverty by 20% over the next decade.
And WEF released a report showing that increasing resource efficiency could save $2 trillion for major economies across just three sectors - carbon, steel and iron.
Download WEF's 2013 global risk report report: