Thursday, February 25, 2016

Topping the Tables

The Evolving Risks Landscape, 2007–2016 (Source Credit: World Economic Forum 2007–2016, Global Risks Reports) Click to Enlarge.
The Global Risks Report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) last year presented a mixed outlook for the run up to the UN Paris climate negotiations.  On one hand, environmental risks had been marching steadily up the perceived risk rankings, whereas on the other there were signs of dwindling levels of international trust and cooperation.

However, the climate negotiations played out better than many might have expected.  It is interesting, then, that in the latest WEF Global Risks Report (pdf) 'failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation' is the top ranked risk in terms of its perceived impact on society.  It also ranks third in terms of likelihood, after large-scale involuntary migration (which is already happening) and extreme weather events, which have been well represented during 2015.

This essentially means that respondents think that a failure to address this issue is likely to lead to levels of climate change that pose serious risks to society, potentially beyond our capacity to adapt within the next ten years.

The risks report is based on a survey of 750 individuals and was undertaken during September and October 2015, so the outcomes of the Paris negotiations were not yet known.  Nevertheless, knowledge of the Paris Agreement would not be expected to alter perceptions of the potential impacts of climate change, should they occur, even if it might affect perceptions of their likelihood.

The WEF risks report is notable for several reasons.  First, different types of risk are explicitly ranked alongside one another.  That the failure to address climate change tops the tables above fiscal crises and even weapons of mass destruction is significant.

Moreover, those surveyed by the WEF are skewed towards individuals whose expertise lays in economics (34.5%) and are working in the private sector (44.7%); for comparison, only 10% have primary expertise in the environment.  If broad recognition that there is a problem is a first step towards social and political solutions, then perhaps there is some room for optimism, as well as healthy debate about what those solutions could and should look like.

Read original article at Topping the Tables

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