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Environmental Risks Haunt World Economic Forum

Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (Photo by Michael Buholzer courtesy World Economic Forum)

Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (Photo by Michael Buholzer courtesy World Economic Forum)

By Sunny Lewis

DAVOS, Switzerland, January 23, 2018 (  News) – Climate change, terrorism and the backlash against globalization pose the greatest threats to the survival of human civilization, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the opening session of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos today.

“The challenges we face are as numerous as they are daunting,” said Modi, leader of the 1.3 billion people in world’s most populous democracy and fastest growing major economy.

“In a world that is full of fault lines and rifts, we need to build a shared future,” Modi said, emphasizing the theme of this year’s meeting, “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.”

“With new forces arising, the balance between economic capabilities and political power is changing at great speed,” cautioned Modi. “Because of this, we can foresee far-reaching changes in the nature of this world with respect to peace, stability and security.”

“Glaciers are receding, ice caps are melting in the Arctic, many islands are sinking. … There can be floods, or there can be drought, we are seeing the impact of extreme weather conditions,” he said.

Countries have failed to work together and to live up to their environmental pledges, said the Indian Prime Minister. “Everyone talks about reducing carbon emissions but there are very few people or countries who back their words with their resources to help developing countries to adopt appropriate technology,” he said. “Very few of them come forward to help.”

Modi said his government is aiming for a major move to cleaner forms of energy. In the last three years, India has brought some 60 gigawatts of renewable energy online, roughly a third of Modi’s target.

“To save the environment and to fight climate change, my government has planned a very big campaign and given itself very tough objective,” he said. “By the year 2022, in India we want to produce 175 gigawatts of renewable energy. This is a very big target for a country like India.”

Around the world, aspirations are rising as the economies heal from the severe recession of the past decade, and opportunities are opening to deal with the grave risks facing humanity, World Economic Forum organizers believe.

Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman, World Economic Forum, said, “A widening economic recovery presents us with an opportunity that we cannot afford to squander, to tackle the fractures that we have allowed to weaken the world’s institutions, societies and environment.”

“The big concern,” Schwab said in his message to attendees, “is that our optimism lets us forget that economic growth without restoring the social contract will not be sustainable.”

“We must take seriously the risk of a global systems breakdown,” warned Schwab. “Together we have the resources and the new scientific and technological knowledge to prevent this. Above all, the challenge is to find the will and momentum to work together for a shared future.”

Environment Tops Global Risks Report 2018

“We have been pushing our planet to the brink and the damage is becoming increasingly clear,” the World Economic Forum warned in its “Global Risks Report 2018” published just ahead of this week’s meeting at Davos.

The prospect of strong economic growth in 2018 presents leaders with a golden opportunity to address signs of severe weakness in many of the complex systems that underpin our world, such as societies, economies, international relations and the environment. That is the message of “The Global Risks Report 2018,” said the World Economic Forum in a statement January 19, launching the report.

WEF’s annual risks reports are based on annual Global Risks Perception surveys. Nearly 1,000 expert respondents from business, academia, civil society and the public sector, including many areas of expertise, geographies and age groups rate 30 global risks for likelihood and impact.

As in 2017, this year the environment was by far the greatest concern. Extreme weather events were seen as the single most prominent risk.

All five of the environmental risks on the survey list: extreme weather; biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse; major natural disasters; man-made environmental disasters; and failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation – were ranked highly on both dimensions – likelihood and impact.

“In our annual Global Risks Perception Survey, environmental risks have grown in prominence in recent years,” said WEF. “This trend has continued this year, with all five risks in the environmental category being ranked higher than average for both likelihood and impact over a 10-year horizon.”

Environmental risks affected millions in 2017, a year characterized by high-impact hurricanes, extreme temperatures, devastating wildfires and the first rise in CO2 emissions for four years.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents said risks are intensifying, while seven percent said they’re declining.

“A deteriorating geopolitical landscape is partly to blame for the pessimistic outlook in 2018, with 93 percent of respondents saying they expect political or economic confrontations between major powers to worsen and nearly 80 percent expecting an increase in risks associated with war involving major powers,” according to the WEF report.

“A trend towards nation-state unilateralism” may make it tough to sustain the long-term, multilateral responses required to counter global warming and the degradation of the global environment, warned WEF.

John Drzik, is president of Global Risk and Digital at the UK’s Marsh & McLennan Companies, which handles insurance, risk management, reinsurance, investment advice and management consulting.

Commenting on the risk report, Drzik said, “Business and government need to invest far more in resilience efforts if we are to prevent the same bulging ‘protection’ gap between economic and insured losses that we see for natural catastrophes.”

Alison Martin, Group Chief Risk Officer, Zurich Insurance Group, commented, “Extreme weather events were ranked again as a top global risk by likelihood and impact. Environmental risks, together with a growing vulnerability to other risks, are now seriously threatening the foundation of most of our commons.”

“Unfortunately we currently observe a too-little-too-late response by governments and organizations to key trends such as climate change,” warned Martin. “It’s not yet too late to shape a more resilient tomorrow, but we need to act with a stronger sense of urgency in order to avoid potential system collapse.”

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) for the Earth

To build resilience and prevent collapse, in September, the World Economic Forum announced a new initiative to harness innovations and technologies to transform they way environmental issues are addressed.

The initiative came in response to warnings from scientists in an article published by the journal “Science” that human activity has pushed the Earth beyond four of nine “planetary boundaries.”

At the rate things are going, the Earth in the coming decades could cease to be a “safe operating space” for human beings, warned researchers from the Stockholm Resilience Center trying to gauge the breaking points in the natural world.

Technology holds great potential to unlock new solutions but also poses new risks to the environment, people and societies.

The initiative was announced in New York City at the Forum’s first Sustainable Development Impact Summit.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) for the Earth initiative is developing in partnership with Stanford University and PwC and with funding from the Mava Foundation.

In an op-ed article, Schwab characterized 4IR this way: “Ubiquitous, mobile supercomputing. Intelligent robots. Self-driving cars. Neuro-technological brain enhancements. Genetic editing. The evidence of dramatic change is all around us and it’s happening at exponential speed.”

Now, technology entrepreneurs, environmental experts, policymakers and industry leaders are identifying investment opportunities for commercial, impact and blended finance; supporting governments to develop policies; and assisting entrepreneurs to implement innovative solutions at scale.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution provides an opportunity to fix the world’s burgeoning environmental challenges – but they need to be tackled by design,” said Dominic Waughray, head of Public-Private Partnerships and member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum.

“It is possible,” said Waughray, “that a tipping point of widespread innovation to tackle some of the Earth’s most urgent challenges is within humanity’s grasp.”

“There is great potential, and increasing interest, in exploring how innovations could also be applied to improve our environmental and natural resource security, including through technology and system innovations that we might not yet be able to even imagine,” Waughray envisioned.

The need for that security is expanding every day. Although humanity has already pushed the planet to its limits, a growing population means that even more people will need secure supplies of food, energy and transportation.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that global demand for food will increase 60 percent between 2006 to 2050.

The International Energy Agency says energy consumption will increase by at least 48 percent between 2012 to 2040.

And the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s International Transport Forum forecasts there will be 2.5 billion cars on the road by 2050, up from about one billion today.

Even in the face of all these risks, Jim Yong Kim, President, The World Bank, is looking on the bright side.

“For the first time since the financial crisis, the World Bank is forecasting that the global economy will be operating at or near full capacity. We anticipate growth in advanced economies to moderate slightly, but growth in emerging markets and developing countries should strengthen to 4.5% this year,” wrote Kim in an op-ed piece for the World Economic Forum.

In addition to financial good news, the first day at Davos featured wisdom from Pope Francis.

In a prepared speech read at Davos by Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, the Pope said, “If we want a more secure future, one that encourages the prosperity of all, then it is necessary to keep the compass continually oriented towards ‘true North,’ represented by authentic values. Now is the time to take courageous and bold steps for our beloved planet. This is the right moment to put into action our responsibility to contribute to the development of humanity.”

Featured Image: India’s Prime Minister Narandra Modi addresses the opening plenary of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018 in Davos, Switzerland. (Photo by Valeriano Di Domenico courtesy World Economic Forum) Creative Commons license via Flickr