Environmental risks top World Economic Forum list of global threats; Challenges will require resilience ‘lens’
by Christine Boynton, GRI
January 31, 2018
Extreme weather events and natural disasters were identified as the world’s most prominent risks by the 2018 Global Risks Report, released at the World Economic Forum (WEC) in Davos, Switzerland.
The WEC report acknowledged that storms and disruptive natural events are occurring more often and with more severity — noting that September 2017 was the most intense month on record in terms of the intensity and duration of Atlantic storms, as well as the most expensive hurricane season “ever.”
“In our annual Global Risks Perception Survey, environmental risks have grown in prominence in recent years. 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. This follows a year characterized by high-impact hurricanes, extreme temperatures and the first rise in CO2 emissions for four years. We have been pushing our planet to the brink and the damage is becoming increasingly clear. Biodiversity is being lost at mass-extinction rates, agricultural systems are under strain and pollution of the air and sea has become an increasingly pressing threat to human health.” -The Global Risks Report 2018 13th Edition
It doesn’t only take a large storm to have far-reaching consequences, however. As our society grows increasingly more connected, even small disruptions have cascading effects.
“Humanity has become remarkably adept at understanding how to mitigate conventional risks that can be relatively easily isolated,” the report states. “But we are much less competent when it comes to dealing with complex risks in the interconnected systems that underpin our world, such as organizations, economies, societies, and the environment.”
For example, in 2016 wildfires ripped through the western U.S. and portions of Canada. A post-disaster analysis conducted by the Global Resilience Institute (GRI) found that the fires not only destroyed homes and businesses their paths, but also affected thousands of people untouched by the blaze, by taking out power and water systems and closing down shipping lines.
“Our systems used to be localized and failure would cause localized disasters,” said Stephen Flynn, founding director of GRI in an interview with News@Northeastern. “But now they are all interconnected. So while we need to continue looking at the science of the hazard itself, we also need to look at how the natural environment interacts with the systems built by humans.”
“Everything is so interconnected now, that you no longer have to be in the crosshairs of a disaster to feel its effect,” said Flynn.
[Header image: FILE – In this Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, file photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, flames burn near power lines in Sycamore Canyon near West Mountain Drive in Montecito, Calif. The largest wildfire on record in California, the Thomas fire, was declared contained on Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, days after mud on the coastal mountain slopes it scorched crashed down on homes during a storm, killing at least 18 people. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP, File)