World Economic Forum’s 2024 Global Risks Report: Growing Risks and Emerging Responses
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Key Impact Points:
- Global Risks Report 2024 Highlights: The World Economic Forum’s report identifies climate change, demographic changes, technology, and geopolitics as major forces destabilizing the world, with severe impacts on lives through extreme weather, misinformation, cyberattacks, and socio-political polarization.
- Risk Mitigation and Preparation: The report emphasizes the varying impact and timelines of these risks, highlighting the need for mitigation and preparedness strategies, considering the compounded effects of interconnected risks.
- Focus on Top Risks and Solutions: Experts from the Forum discuss solutions to key risks like cyber insecurity, adverse AI outcomes, and extreme weather, stressing the need for emissions reduction, technological advancements, and global cooperation.
- Interconnectedness of Risks: The report illustrates how these risks are interrelated, with conflict exacerbating climate change, AI advancements leading to cyber vulnerabilities, and economic factors affecting global stability.
Climate change, demographic changes, technology and geopolitics. These are the changing ‘structural forces’ that are making the world less stable, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024.
The fallout is already affecting billions of lives. Extreme weather, AI-generated mis- and disinformation, a cost-of-living crisis, cyberattacks and socio-political polarization are already upon us.
The impact and timeline of each risk area is different, and so is our chance of mitigating them; or preparing for them. And when combined, risks are heightened — conflict harms the planet directly and prevents much-needed collaborative action on climate change. Advances in AI can lead to cyber vulnerabilities. High interest rates expose small- and medium- sized enterprises and heavily indebted countries to debt distress.
But while 2024’s risks paint a grim picture, their worst outcomes are not inevitable.
The World Economic Forum spoke with Forum experts about some of the top risks this year: cyber insecurity, adverse outcomes of AI and extreme weather events, to get their insights into the solutions and potential for mitigation. Here’s what they had to say.
Extreme weather events
Risk ranking: 2nd on the 2-year horizon and 1st on the 10-year horizon
Gill Einhorn, Head, Innovation and Transformation, Centre for Nature and Climate, World Economic Forum: “What is needed is a mindset that recognizes the full scale of the risk, while maintaining the optimism that we can and will respond in a way to avoid and mitigate the worst risks from occurring.”
Extreme weather events, critical change to Earth systems (a new entrant this year) and biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse are the top three long-term risks featured in the Global Risks Report in 2024. They are interrelated and mutually reinforcing.
Abrupt and irreversible changes to Earth systems lead to more extreme weather events and risk collapses in ecosystems that are not well adapted to new climates.
The priority solution is faster emissions reduction and credible steps by all actors in our economic system to accelerate the speed and scale of a clean transition.
Reducing human emissions is the swiftest lever to postpone or avoid critical changes to Earth systems.
Once a climate tipping points has been reached, Earth’s natural systems reinforce changes and so delaying these for as long as possible will give our civilization time to develop appropriate adaptation and resilience strategies.
Here then lies the second priority for addressing systemic collapse from environmental risk: effectively adapting to coming changes. As sea levels rise, an ecosystem of interconnected solutions is needed to address threats to human life, landscapes and property.
And the solutions are already available: Innovations from African farmers, experienced in drought and flood management, will be crucial to quality of European crops. Grassroots innovation in managing the relocation of Arctic communities, who are the canaries in the coal mine of the climate disaster, can be harnessed to understand the policy safeguard and most effective approaches to handling forced migration from sea-level rise.
Much can be learned from nature’s forms, processes and ecosystems that have survived five previous mass extinctions to create more regenerative designs — known as biomimicry.
We must recognize the full scale of the risk, but maintain the optimism that we can and will respond in a way to avoid and mitigate the worst risks from occurring. We are responsible for the potential 6th Mass Extinction — but are also uniquely positioned to respond to avert its worst consequences.
Risk ranking: 4th on the 2-year horizon
Sean Doyle, Lead, Cybercrime Atlas Initiative, World Economic Forum: “Technological development is making the cyber equity gap more stark within and between countries. This makes everyone more vulnerable, even the best-protected organizations.“
Industries worldwide are on the brink of a technological transformation. Cybersecurity and cybercrime trends are driven by technological developments. There is a need for an understanding of the immediate, mid-term and long-term implications of these technologies for each organization’s cybersecurity posture.
Emerging technology can provide solutions to cyber insecurity, but indications are that developments will benefit the organizations and societies that are already most advanced and best protected from cyber threats.
The gap between organizations that are able to make themselves cyber-resilient and those that cannot is growing. For example, cyber attackers are adopting new technologies, such as Generative AI tools, to increase the number of markets that that they can target. Responding to this requires investment and the acquisition of talent that many organizations are either unable to meet or unaware of. Because of this, the proportion of organizations that can either protect themselves from cyber-attackers or recover from a cyberattack is diminishing.
This cyber equity gap will have a more pronounced social impact in 2024 due to a convergence between cybercrime and violent crime in some regions. For example, in August 2023, the UN reported that at least 220,000 people had been trafficked in Southeast Asia and been forced to work running online scams.
As organizations race to adopt new technologies, such as generative AI, they should not lose sight of the risks created by well-flagged near-future applications of other technologies such as quantum computing. Technological development is making the cyber equity gap more stark within and between countries. This makes everyone more vulnerable, even the best-protected organizations, and collaborative solutions that support those least able to secure themselves will be to the benefit of all.
Adverse outcomes of AI technologies
Risk ranking: 6th on the 10-year horizon
Benjamin Larsen, Lead, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, World Economic Forum: “Sustained dialogue lays the groundwork for greater cooperation and a potential reversal of digital fragmentation.“
In navigating the challenges posed by the rapid advancement of AI and technology, a series of problems and innovative solutions come to the forefront. The risk of market concentration and its potential impact on national security incentives necessitates a concerted effort to enhance global governance structures. Initiatives like the UN’s High-Level Advisory Group and the declaration from the UK AI Safety Summit, involving China, the US, the EU, Rwanda, South Korea, exemplify steps in the right direction. While a long-term objective is working towards harmonized regulatory regimes, these are important initial efforts aimed at greater stakeholder engagement at the international level.
The integration of AI in conflict decisions poses risks of unintended escalation and asymmetric empowerment of malicious actors. Normative frameworks, such as the Political Declaration on Responsible Military Use of AI and Autonomy, launched in 2023, aim to guide states’ responsible development and deployment of military AI. Additionally, collaboration on AI and cyberwarfare is seen as essential to address these risks effectively.
The politicization of AI supply chains requires a return to constructive diplomacy and multilateral cooperation. Recent discussions between President Biden and President Xi, acknowledging the risks associated with advanced AI systems, signal a growing global recognition of the need for responsible management. While not an immediate solution to geopolitical competition, sustained dialogue lays the groundwork for greater cooperation and a potential reversal of digital fragmentation.