Every year the World Economic Forum works with experts and decision-makers from various age groups, countries and sectors (business, academia, civil, society and government) to identify and analyze the most challenging risks we face, ultimately resulting in the annual Global Risks Report.
The 2017 Global Risks Report highlights the growing stress we are placing on many of the global systems we rely on and this year there was a particular focus on climate and water.
The report lists the following as the Top 5 Risks in Terms of Impact:
- Weapons of mass destruction
- Extreme weather events
- Water crises
- Major natural disasters
- Failure of climate change mitigation and adaption
We were shocked to find that 4 of the top 5 global risks are related to water. Whether its scarcity, crisis due to infrastructure degradation, over abundance due to flooding or perpetual droughts driven by climate change, it is clear that if we do not start adapting to these changes the consequences will be dire.
This year, environmental concerns are more prominent than ever. We are in great need to protect and strengthen our systems of global cooperation.
Not convinced? The World Bank forecasts that water stress could cause extreme societal stress in regions where the economic impact of water scarcity could put 6% of the GDP at risk by 2050. As stated in the report, “The confluence of risks around water scarcity, climate change, and involuntary migration [driven by the previously listed factors] remains a potent ‘risk multiplier’ especially in the world economy’s more fragile geopolitical contexts… It requires new approaches that take a wider ‘systems view’ of interconnected challenges.”
For the last seven years, the Global Risks Report has consistently featured environmental risks among the top-ranked global risks. However, the slow pace and ineffective management of “global commons”—the oceans, atmosphere, and climate system— is triggering fragility in economic, environmental and political contexts. For example, last year was the most expensive year so far according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The United States was filled with floods, tornadoes, drought, wildfires, hurricanes, freezes and other storms, all of them with a price tag exceeding $1 billion in damages. In some areas, like Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands, the sluggish recovery has impacted the lives of residents who at this point (5 months after the devastation) still do not have access to clean water, healthcare, education and work.
International agencies and governments cannot act alone in response to environmental risks. This is the time when all stakeholders must take responsibility for their roles to tackle global challenges. After all, a prosperous society relies on a healthy environment, and good business relies on sustainable societies.
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