Climate Change Named Biggest Global Threat in New WEF Risks Report
By Uwe Hessler
In its 15th Global Risks Report published on Wednesday, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has said that for the first time in the report's history, all of the "top long-term risks by likelihood" are environmental. While in the previous decade economic and financial crises were seen as most dangerous, the report has found that risk perceptions have shifted to extreme weather, environmental disasters, biodiversity loss, natural catastrophes and failure to mitigate climate change.
"Climate change is a very real and serious threat to society," said Alison Martin, a senior member of Zurich Insurance Group, who helped compile the publication, alongside consultancy Marsh & McLennan and a number of renowned universities from across the world.
"Extreme weather events such as heat waves and flooding are becoming more commonplace and severe, leaving communities to deal with often devastating humanitarian and economic costs," she added.
WEF is an international organization focusing on cooperation between the public and private sectors, and brings together business leaders, government policymakers and representatives of civil society to foster global deliberations on burning issues.
Published in the run-up to the WEF's 50th anniversary meeting in Davos later this month, the report surveyed the opinions of more than 750 global experts and decision-makers to rank their biggest concerns in terms of likelihood and impact.
Among the short-term risks facing mankind already in 2020, three out of four respondents to the survey cited economic confrontations, political polarization, extreme heat waves, destruction of natural resource ecosystems and cyberattacks as the most pressing ones.
Multilateral Systems Falling Apart
WEF describes the world we live in as rife with "geopolitical and geoeconomic uncertainty." Powerful economic, demographic and technological forces are shaping a new balance of power, in which states are increasingly viewing opportunities and challenges through "unilateral lenses."
As a result, alliance structures and multilateral systems are threatening to collapse under the pressure of "nationalist postures in pursuit of individual agendas and economic decoupling."
WEF President Borge Brende noted in the report that renewing the architecture of multilateral political and economic systems was "this generation's defining task."
"It will be a monumental undertaking, but an indispensable one. The Global Risks Report demonstrates how high the stakes are," he wrote, adding that hopes for the global system to simply "snap back" was running the risk of missing "crucial windows" to address pressing problems.
Economic Stability and Social Cohesion
Amid fraying global consensus about politics and economics, the WEF fears that 2020 will be marked by heightened economic confrontations and domestic political polarization, the report says.
In addition, weakening economic growth and rising financial inequality are increasing the risk of economic stagnation, while at the same time governments' space to stimulate economies with monetary and fiscal policy is narrowing.
Amid this darkening economic outlook, people's discontent with their political leaders is set to harden, leading to more public protests that are potentially weakening the ability of governments to take decisive action should a downturn occur.
But without economic and social stability, countries could lack the "financial resources, political capital or social support needed to confront key global risks."
Climate Threats and Biodiversity Loss
As the last five years have already been the warmest on record, climate change is expected to strike harder in the coming years, making weather-related disasters more intense and more frequent.
"The near-term impacts of climate change add up to a planetary emergency that will include loss of life, social and geopolitical tensions and negative economic impacts," the report says, adding that failure of climate change mitigation and adaption is the No. 1 risk by impact and number two by likelihood over the next 10 years.
With it comes the loss of biodiversity — ranked as the second most impactful and third most likely risk for the next decade — which has critical implications for humanity due to the likely collapse of food and health systems and disruptions of entire supply chains.
Digital Fragmentation and Health Care
While digital technology is bringing tremendous economic and societal benefits to much of the global population, the respondents to the WEF survey believe that unequal access to the internet, the lack of a global technology governance framework and cyberinsecurity are all posing significant risk.
This will "prevent the full potential of next generation technologies from being realized," the report concludes.
In the field of public health care, threats to existing systems are mainly seen coming from "changing societal, environmental, demographic and technological patterns" that could undo the dramatic gains in wellness and prosperity.
Here, the report identifies the rise in, for example, cardiovascular diseases and mental illness, as well as the increasing costs from chronic diseases as threats to public health systems worldwide.
"As existing health risks resurge and new ones emerge, humanity's past successes in overcoming health challenges are no guarantee of future results," the report says.
WEF concludes its 2020 risks assessment by saying that "as the window of opportunity is closing, coordinated, multistakeholder action is needed quickly to mitigate against the worst outcomes."
Reposted with permission from DW.
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- Redwoods are the world's tallest trees.
- Now scientists have discovered they are even bigger than we thought.
- Using laser technology they map the 80-meter giants.
- Trees are a key plank in the fight against climate change.
They are among the largest trees in the world, descendants of forests where dinosaurs roamed.
Pixabay / Simi Luft<p><span>Until recently, measuring these trees meant scaling their 80 meter high trunks with a tape measure. Now, a team of scientists from University College London and the University of Maryland uses advanced laser scanning, to create 3D maps and calculate the total mass.</span></p><p>The results are striking: suggesting the trees <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">may be as much as 30% larger than earlier measurements suggested.</a> Part of that could be due to the additional trunks the Redwoods can grow as they age, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a process known as reiteration</a>.</p>
New 3D measurements of large redwood trees for biomass and structure. Nature / UCL<p>Measuring the trees more accurately is important because carbon capture will probably play a key role in the battle against climate change. Forest <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/09/carbon-sequestration-natural-forest-regrowth" target="_blank">growth could absorb billions of tons</a> of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.</p><p>"The importance of big trees is widely-recognised in terms of carbon storage, demographics and impact on their surrounding ecosystems," the authors wrote<a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank"> in the journal Nature</a>. "Unfortunately the importance of big trees is in direct proportion to the difficulty of measuring them."</p><p>Redwoods are so long lived because of their ability to <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cope with climate change, resist disease and even survive fire damage</a>, the scientists say. Almost a fifth of their volume may be bark, which helps protect them.</p>
Carbon Capture Champions<p><span>Earlier research by scientists at Humboldt University and the University of Washington found that </span><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112716302584" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Redwood forests store almost 2,600 tonnes of carbon per hectare</a><span>, their bark alone containing more carbon than any other neighboring species.</span></p><p>While the importance of trees in fighting climate change is widely accepted, not all species enjoy the same protection as California's coastal Redwoods. In 2019 the world lost the equivalent of <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30 soccer fields of forest cover every minute</a>, due to agricultural expansion, logging and fires, according to The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).</p>
Pixabay<p>Although <a href="https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/1420/files/original/Deforestation_fronts_-_drivers_and_responses_in_a_changing_world_-_full_report_%281%29.pdf?1610810475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the rate of loss is reported to have slowed in recent years</a>, reforesting the world to help stem climate change is a massive task.</p><p><span>That's why the World Economic Forum launched the Trillion Trees Challenge (</span><a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a><span>) and is engaging organizations and individuals across the globe through its </span><a href="https://uplink.weforum.org/uplink/s/uplink-issue/a002o00000vOf09AAC/trillion-trees" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Uplink innovation crowdsourcing platform</a><span> to support the project.</span></p><p>That's backed up by research led by ETH Zurich/Crowther Lab showing there's potential to restore tree coverage across 2.2 billion acres of degraded land.</p><p>"Forests are critical to the health of the planet," according to <a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a>. "They sequester carbon, regulate global temperatures and freshwater flows, recharge groundwater, anchor fertile soil and act as flood barriers."</p><p><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor">Reposted with permission from the </em><span><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor"><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/redwoods-store-more-co2-and-are-more-enormous-than-we-thought/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em></span></p>
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