The World Economic Forum (WEF) has released The Global Risks Report 2018, a collection of polls of nearly 1,000 “experts and decision-makers.” Based on the composition of the group, it is a collection of the opinions of a portion of the global elite. Cybersecurity and the environment were high on the list of anxieties.
The poll asks about 30 global risks and how they will affect the world in the next decade. Along with the environment and cybersecurity, “economic strains” and “geopolitical strains” were high on the list, but received less attention.
In the Executive Summary of the report, WEF leaders pointed out:
We have been pushing our planet to the brink and the damage is becoming increasingly clear. Biodiversity is being lost at mass-extinction rates, agricultural systems are under strain and pollution of the air and sea has become an increasingly pressing threat to human health.
At the heart of this worry are an increase in violent storms, CO2 emissions and wide fluctuations in temperature. There is certainly plenty of hard evidence for scientists that these troubles are real and not imagined. Several months last year posted the highest global temperatures in history.
Cyberattacks have become an almost routine problem for both large companies and governments. Hacks of systems like those of Equifax point to the severity of the problem. The report’s authors wrote:
Attacks against businesses have almost doubled in five years, and incidents that would once have been considered extraordinary are becoming more and more commonplace. The financial impact of cybersecurity breaches is rising, and some of the largest costs in 2017 related to ransomware attacks, which accounted for 64% of all malicious emails.
Attacks on major systems and industries were prominently mentioned. Worries about an attack on the entire U.S. electricity grid have been posted long before this year’s WEF evaluation.
Although WEF leadership expressed optimism about the current economy, they also said that high commodities prices; debt loads, especially in China; and “policy firepower” when there is another economic downturn were also mentioned. That firepower refers to a lack of ability of central banks to cut already low interest rates or buy hundreds of billions of dollars in assets. Rates have been at historic lows for a decade.
Capping the list of major threats is rising tensions among the world’s major powers. This can be seen in the relationship between the United States and several other nations, particularly Russia and North Korea. A number of other large nations face problems not unlike those the United States does. The authors of the study wrote:
Re-establishing the state as the primary locus of power and legitimacy has become an increasingly attractive strategy for many countries, but one that leaves many smaller states squeezed as the geopolitical sands shift. There is currently no sign that norms and institutions exist towards which the world’s major powers might converge. This creates new risks and uncertainties: rising military tensions, economic and commercial disruptions, and destabilizing feedback loops between changing global conditions and countries’ domestic political conditions.
As the world’s leaders gather at the WEF annual meeting in Davos Switzerland, they have a long and difficult agenda to discuss.