• Environmental risks dominate the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022 – for both the short and long term.
  • Climate-change related risks also account for three of the top risks by severity in the next 10 years.
  • The global risks horizon changes over the next two to 10 years, as the cascading impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are felt.
  • Less than 16% of respondents to the Global Risks Perception Survey are ‘optimistic’ or ‘positive’ about the outlook for the world.

Have you read?

Two years on from the first COVID-19 cases, countries are reporting record infections due to the Omicron variant, but the pandemic pales compared to the long-term risks the world faces from climate change.

This is the sobering view of nearly 1,000 risk experts and global leaders in business, government and civil society in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022.

Climate action failure, extreme weather events, and biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse were considered the top three of the top 10 global risks by severity over the next 10 years in the annual Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS).

Global Risks report 2022
In total, half of the top 10 are environmental risks, with human environmental damage and natural resource crises also featuring.
Image: World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022

Societal risks make up a third of the global top 10, with societal cohesion erosion and livelihood crises completing the top five, while infectious diseases come lower down at number six.

Climate action failure is also considered the most critical threat to the world in both the medium term (2-5 years) and long term (5-10 years), with the highest potential to severely damage societies, economies and the planet.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Most respondents to the survey believe too little is being done: 77% said international efforts to mitigate climate change have “not started” or are in “early development”.

Risks outlook and global divergence

In fact, the experts and leaders were not altogether hopeful about the outlook for the world, with less than 16% of respondents to the GRPS ‘optimistic’ or ‘positive’, with the vast majority (84.2%) ‘concerned’ or ‘worried’.

World Outlook Sentiment
The 17th edition of the report also looks at the pandemic’s cascading impacts and identifies tensions that will result from a divergent recovery.
Image: World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022

By 2024, the report says, developing economies (except China) will have fallen 5.5% below their pre-pandemic expected GDP growth, while advanced economies will have surpassed it by 0.9%.

Such global divergence will impact on the world’s ability to tackle common challenges including climate change, enhancing digital safety, restoring livelihoods and societal cohesion, and managing competition in space.

“Widening disparities within and between countries will not only make it more difficult to control COVID-19 and its variants, but will also risk stalling, if not reversing, joint action against shared threats that the world cannot afford to overlook,” says Saadia Zahidi, the Forum’s Managing Director.

Short, medium and long-term global risks

Global risks horizon
When will risks become a critical threat to the world?
Image: World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022

The risk horizon changes over the coming years, as the full implications of the pandemic become clearer.

In the next two years, risk experts and leaders see the erosion of social cohesion, the deterioration of mental health, infectious diseases and livelihood crises as being equal to environmental threats – which are constant across the short to long term.

In the next five years, economic risks of debt crises and geoeconomic confrontations emerge as governments struggle to balance fiscal priorities. While the long-term top five is dominated by environmental risks.

But amid all the bleak predictions, there’s still reason to hope for more positive outcomes, with the Global Risks Report 2022 including lessons in resilience from the COVID-19 pandemic, advice for cooperation in space, greater cyber resilience and a more sequenced climate transition.

“The least disruptive climate transition measures will be those that holistically integrate the needs of individuals, societies, businesses and planet.”