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Disinformation tops global risks 2024 as environmental threats intensify

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024, based on nearly 20 years of risk perception data, warns that progress

By groundreportdesk
New Update
Disinformation tops global risks 2024 as environmental threats intensify

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024, based on nearly 20 years of risk perception data, warns that progress in human development is slowly being eroded. This leaves countries and individuals exposed to new and returning risks. Changes in global power, climate, technology, and demographics are pushing the world’s ability to adapt to its limit.

The report, released today, suggests that cooperation on pressing global issues may become increasingly scarce, necessitating new ways to manage risks. Two-thirds of global experts predict a fragmented world order in the next decade, where powerful countries will compete and set - and enforce - new rules and standards.

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The report, created with Zurich Insurance Group and Marsh McLennan, reflects the views of over 1,400 global risk experts, policymakers, and industry leaders surveyed in September 2023. The results show a mainly negative outlook for the world in the short term, which is expected to worsen over the long term. While 30% of global experts foresee a higher likelihood of global catastrophes in the next two years, nearly two-thirds expect this in the next 10 years.

“An unstable global order characterized by polarizing narratives and insecurity, the worsening impacts of extreme weather and economic uncertainty are causing accelerating risks – including misinformation and disinformation – to propagate," said Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, the World Economic Forum. "World leaders must come together to address short-term crises and lay the groundwork for a more resilient, sustainable, inclusive future." 

Rise of disinformation and conflict

Concerns over a persistent cost-of-living crisis the intertwined risks of AI-driven misinformation and disinformation, and societal polarization dominated the risk outlook for 2024.

The nexus between falsified information and societal unrest will take centre stage amid elections in several major economies that are set to take place in the next two years. Interstate armed conflict is a top five concern over the next two years. With several live conflicts underway, underlying geopolitical tensions and corroding societal resilience risk create conflict contagion.

Persistent economic uncertainty and growing economic and technological divides will mark the coming years. Over the next two years, it ranks lack of economic opportunity as sixth. Barriers to economic mobility could build over the longer term, locking large segments of the population out of economic opportunities.

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Investment, technologies, and related job creation may increasingly isolate conflict-prone or climate-vulnerable countries. Without pathways to safe and secure livelihoods, crime, militarization or radicalization may increasingly affect individuals.

The risks landscape continues to be dominated by environmental risks over all timeframes. Extreme weather events in 2024 worry two-thirds of global experts. The five of the top 10 most severe risks that people perceive to face over the next decade include extreme weather, critical change to Earth systems, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, natural resource shortages and pollution.

However, expert respondents disagreed on the urgency of the risks posed. Respondents from the private sector believe that most environmental risks will materialize over a longer timeframe than those from civil society or government do. This points to the growing risk of surpassing a point of no return.

Responding to risks

The report urges leaders to reconsider their approach to global risks. It suggests that global cooperation should focus on quickly establishing safeguards for the most disruptive emerging risks, such as creating agreements to manage the role of AI in conflict resolution.

The report also proposes actions that don’t rely solely on international cooperation. These include building resilience at the individual and state levels through digital literacy campaigns to combat misinformation and disinformation, and promoting more research and development into climate modeling and technologies that could speed up the transition to cleaner energy. Both the public and private sectors have the potential to contribute to these efforts.

Carolina Klint, Marsh McLennan’s Chief Commercial Officer for Europe, stated that advancements in artificial intelligence could significantly alter risk perspectives for organizations. Many organizations struggle to respond to threats caused by misinformation, disintermediation, and strategic miscalculation.

She explained that companies need to navigate increasingly complex supply chains due to geopolitical and climate changes and heightened cyber threats from various malicious actors.

Resilience and cooperation key to success

She stressed the need for a steadfast focus on building resilience at the organizational, national, and international levels. She also highlighted the need for greater cooperation between the public and private sectors to successfully navigate this rapidly evolving risk landscape.

John Scott, Zurich Insurance Group’s Head of Sustainability Risk, noted that the world is currently undergoing major structural changes due to AI, climate change, geopolitical shifts, and demographic changes. With 91% of risk experts surveyed expressing a pessimistic outlook for the next 10 years, Scott recognizes that known risks are intensifying and new risks are emerging. However, he also notes that these risks can present opportunities.

He underscored the importance of collective and coordinated international actions and emphasized the vital role of localized strategies in mitigating the impact of global risks. He believes that the individual actions of citizens, countries, and businesses can significantly contribute to reducing global risk, leading to a safer, brighter world.

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