Climate change biggest risk facing world in 2016: WEF

Failure to mitigate adverse impact of climate change is the biggest risk facing the world this year with greater damage potential than even the weapons of mass destruction, says a WEF survey.

London: Failure to mitigate adverse impact of climate change is the biggest risk facing the world this year with greater damage potential than even the weapons of mass destruction, says a WEF survey.

On the economic front, 'deflation' is the risk of highest concern for doing business in India, said the Global Risks Report 2016, released Thursday by the World Economic Forum (WEF) ahead of its annual meeting in Davos next week.

It showed there is an increased likelihood for all risks, this year -- from environment to geopolitics, technology to society and economy.

"The risk with the greatest potential impact in 2016 was found to be a failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation," WEF said, adding that an environmental risk has topped the ranking for the first time since the survey was launched in 2006.

"This year, it was considered to have greater potential damage than weapons of mass destruction (2nd), water crises (3rd), large-scale involuntary migration (4th) and severe energy price shock (5th)," WEF said.

However, the number one risk in 2016 in terms of likelihood is large-scale involuntary migration, followed by extreme weather events, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, interstate conflict with regional consequences and major natural catastrophes.

As per the country-level data on how businesses perceive global risks in their countries, deflation was on the risk with highest concern for doing business in India.

Globally, 'unemployment and under-employment' emerged as the most widespread risk of highest concern for doing business, followed by energy price shock and cyber attacks.

Talking about food security risk in the context of climate change, WEF said the most climate-vulnerable countries often heavily depend on agricultural productivity to sustain economic growth and development.

"But the recent years have also shown the climate vulnerability of G-20 countries such as India, Russia and the US - the breadbasket of the world - and other large industrial producers of agricultural commodities," WEF said.

About India and China, the two most populous nations, it said both are currently committed to self-sufficiency in cereals and should they have to abandon these policies of self-sufficiency, the consequences will be felt globally in the form of tighter international markets and higher prices.

At the same time, it also stressed on an urgent need to reduce food wastage and said the current estimates suggest around one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted along the food value chain, with a direct economic cost of USD 750 billion per year.

"Excluding land-use change, the annual emissions footprint of food produced but not consumed is around 3.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), more than the total national emissions of India," the report said.

On international security risks, it said, "India, while currently occupied with pressing domestic issues of internal conflict and social inequality, is also a key actor to watch as the Asian security landscape adapts to a post-Western world."

The report has been developed with the support of Strategic Partners Marsh and McLennan Companies and Zurich Insurance Group. 

WEF also said that without improved governance at the global and national levels, the world risks sleepwalking into widespread chaos or major war.

"Strategic competition between strong states coupled with failure of weak states is seen as greatest threat and, with climate change, has the potential to profoundly affect the international security landscape," it said.

The report further argued that a broader range of stakeholders needs to be involved in maintaining international security in the future, and that overhauling the social contract between citizens and their governments could address the underlying drivers of many security threats.

"With the world contemplating another year of geopolitical uncertainty and the international security landscape in flux, urgent action to improve governance at the international and national levels and the involvement of a wider cross-section of stakeholders could prevent the international security landscape from taking a dystopian turn in the next 15 years," WEF said in its Security Outlook 2030.

It presented three scenarios of how the international security landscape could look in 2030 -- namely the Wall Cities, Strong Regions and War and Peace.

The Walled Cities scenario foresees widening inequalities continuing to pull communities apart, with the wealthy retreating to privately-secured gated communities as public services fracture and chaos and lawlessness spread.

Strong Regions paints a picture of stable geopolitics with several seats of power. Mutual respect among strong leaders holds the system together, which emphasizes the pursuit of narrowly defined national interests over global commons.

War and Peace envisages two powers drifting into major conflict as they dispute responsibility for a devastating cyberattack on critical infrastructure, ultimately resulting in a reworking of a stripped-down global system and greater agency of more sectors in international security.

Experts consulted for the report identified two main phenomena characterizing the current international security landscape: strategic competition among strong states and an increasing number of weak states.

The weakness of some states has left a governance vacuum that is being filled by armed non-state actors, from violent extremist groups such as ISIS to organized criminal gangs, it said.

Meanwhile, after 25 years of relative tranquility following the end of the Cold War, strategic competition among the great powers is again on the rise, from Eastern Ukraine to the Middle East to the South China Sea, it added.

"Looking ahead over the next 15 years, the international security landscape is likely to be profoundly affected by increasing competition for resources, such as water and land, due to climate change.

"Likewise, technological innovations could revolutionize the nature of conflict, from autonomous weapons systems to 3D-printed weaponry to genetically engineered biological weapons. Understanding these changes and formulating responses to the risks they represent will be essential for leaders when contemplating the years ahead," WEF said.