Climate change: a greater risk than weapons of mass destruction

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

The World Economic Forum's verdict: risk is on the rise in 2016
The World Economic Forum's verdict: risk is on the rise in 2016

Related tags Climate change Switzerland

The World Economic Forum (WEF) launched its Global Risks 2016 Report in London on Thursday 14 January.

Out of the top five global risks deemed likely to put world economies in danger, three are a result of climate change.

The bleak finding from the Swiss non-profit foundation may cause concern to the meat industry, too, as governmental failure to cope with rising temperatures could cause interrupted production, financial instability, food shortages and damaged assets.

It is the first time in the 11-year history of the WEF risk report that an environmental issue has topped the list.

Top Five Global Risks in likelihood

1) Large-scale involuntary migration
2) Extreme weather events
3) Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
4) Interstate conflict with regional consequences
5) Major natural catastrophes

 Geopolitics destabilise business

Extreme weather conditions, failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as major natural catastrophes are three out of the five top risks most likely to happen in the next decade, said the WEF.

Failure to mitigate climate change has also been predicted to have a greater impact on the world than weapons of mass destruction and large-scale migration.

Climate change is exacerbating more risks than ever before in terms of water crises, food shortages, constrained economic growth and increased security risks,​” noted Cecilia Reyes, chief risk officer of Zurich Insurance Group.

Meanwhile, geopolitical instability is exposing businesses to cancelled projects, revoked licences, interrupted production, damaged assets and restricted movement of funds across borders.

These political conflicts, in turn, are making the challenge of climate change all the more insurmountable – reducing the potential for political co-operation, as well as diverting resource, innovation, and time away from climate change resilience and prevention,​” she added.

The Changing Global Risks Landscape 2016
The Changing Global Risks Landscape 2016


Chain reaction

Syria has provided a sobering example of how environmental issues can impact the meat industry, as well as cause wider global instability. In 2006, the country suffered one of its worst droughts on record. This drought is believed to be “one of the biggest causes of the Syrian crisis​”, said Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz, head of global competitiveness and risks at the WEF.

Since the crisis erupted, Syria’s meat industry​ has lost 40% of its sheep and goats, 30% of its cattle and 50% of its poultry, when compared to livestock counts from 2011.

This exemplifies how an environmental issue can cause a chain reaction of interconnected events that result in widespread geopolitical and economic risk.

Interstate conflict and large-scale involuntary migration have both been results of the Syria crisis; they were also the other two risks the WEF said were likely to impact the world in the next 10 years.
These are concerning trends and we are on the edge of a tipping point,​” said Espen Barth Eide, head of geopolitical affairs at the WEF.

These risks are high-impact, interconnected and imminent. We need a realistic approach for improving methods of collectively dealing with these global risks.​”

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