Davos is waking up to environmental risks - and 2018 is the year to act

| 25th January 2018
Man walking with factory in background

Environmental risks are the most pressing issues facing the world, according to a Davos survey.

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The 2018 Global Risks Report shows that it is environmental issues which actually deserve our politician's concern - despite the headlines being dominated by conflict and cyberattacks - reports JOE WARE

Common headline-grabbing issues like terrorism, interstate conflict and the failure of financial institutions are way down - on both impact and likelihood.

The World Economic Forum has conducted a survey of experts, business leaders and academics to find out what are the issues that are keeping them up at night, to inform the annual gathering of the global elite in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

This year the media coverage of the report has been dominated by an uptick in the worries around the prospect of warfare and cyberattacks.   But when you look at the results, what is most striking is that it is environmental concerns that dominate.

The issues are mapped out on a graph, with the upward axis showing how severe the impact of each issue would be should it strike, and the horizontal axis showing how likely it is to occur.  

Displaced millions

So low risk items will reside in the bottom left as they represent low impact and low likelihood. The really serious stuff are the risks which are both highly likely and highly damaging.

The top three of these are extreme weather events, natural disasters and failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation.  Not far behind in this top right section are water crises, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, large scale involuntary migration and man-made environmental disasters.

The only item not linked to environmental degradation of some kind is cyberattacks.  Common headline-grabbing issues like terrorism, interstate conflict and the failure of financial institutions are way down, on both impact and likelihood.

It’s certainly encouraging that the world’s top minds are giving proper weight to the ecological crisis which we are living through. But to address them we need to see those in Davos taking action rather than offering just warm words.

It’s no surprise that extreme weather and natural disasters topped the poll following the hurricanes which caused mayhem in Texas and the Caribbean and the flooding which displaced millions in South Asia.  

A safe climate

The obvious solution to these is to accelerate cuts to greenhouse gas emissions which are driving climate change. Another would be to invest more of our humanitarian aid budget supporting the local charities who are first on the scene after an emergency.  

One of the outcomes from the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 was the localisation of aid but this needs to start happening much quicker.

Likewise, the answer to the next biggest risk, the lack of mitigation and adaptation to climate change, is pretty clear.  

This year leaders will have an opportunity to act on this at the UN climate summit, taking place in the heart of Polish coal country in December.  

The pledges captured in the Paris Agreement signed in 2015 were not enough on their own to deliver a safe climate.  

Adaptation commitments

What made the agreement fit for purpose was the ratchet mechanism, which compels countries to review and upgrade their commitments so that action on climate change will accelerate exponentially.  

This year is the first opportunity for countries to do that, through the process which is now called the Talanoa Dialogue.  

It’s also worth noting that climate adaption has not been forgotten by the survey’s respondents.  

Although climate mitigation (the reduction of greenhouse gasses) is important, it needs to go hand in hand with support for those on the front line of climate change that need to adapt to the consequences.

Again, the summit in Poland this year will be a chance for countries to up their adaptation commitments, something that was lacking at last year’s meeting in Bonn.

Global risks

The year 2018 also offers a chance to address one of the other global risks from the top right section of the graph, large scale involuntary migration.

This September at the UN general assembly, member states will agree the compact on refugees and migration, outlining the rights of people facing displacement and creating a framework of how nations and UN agencies should respond to this growing problem.

It is right that the respondents to the Global Risk survey don't limit this to refugees alone – of the 60 million people around the world that have had to leave their homes, 40 million do not have the protections that come with refugee status because they are internally displaced. It’s vital these forgotten 40 million get their voices heard in September.

The Davos jamboree may come in for plenty of ridicule and derision as the rich and famous swan about in their alpine resort.

But if it’s attendees listen to the findings of their own survey they could make 2018 a year when some of the most urgent global risks are addressed.

This Author

Joe Ware is a journalist and writer at Christian Aid. He is on twitter at @wareisjoe

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