Much To Discuss at Davos

Geopolitics and conflicts lead the list of top risks.

This week saw the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. Top researchers join public and private sector leaders to explore the issues facing the world. Every year features an outlook for key risks; this year, the risks felt less hypothetical than they might have in calmer times.

The 19th annual WEF Global Risks Report 2024, based on a survey of nearly 1,500 experts, is a gloomy read. Looking at the near term (two years), risks are rampant; in the longer term (10 years), a majority of respondents expect significant upheaval. The identified categories of risk are led by:

  • Extreme weather events. Both near- and long-term, respondents fear the elevated risk of climate extremes and the difficulty of responding. Over the ten-year horizon, participants noted the risk of critical change to Earth’s ecosystems at the hands of irreversible climate change. Permanent alterations to weather patterns or shore lines could make parts of the world unlivable. Even if climate events were to miraculously settle down, natural resource shortages are also a looming risk.
  • Misinformation and cyber insecurity. With nations comprising more than half the world’s population holding elections this year, the risk of interference and misinformation is elevated. Setting and communicating an agenda will be difficult for leaders when their citizens do not share a common understanding of what is true. And cyber threats are on the rise, with system disruptions making headlines. Over the longer run, panelists noted nervousness about adverse outcomes of artificial intelligence (AI) technology; the space is evolving rapidly, and could change in ways that its developers did not intend.
  • Armed conflict and involuntary migration: sadly, wars and refugees are not new phenomena, but risks of further conflict are on the rise. Major shifts in migration patterns are evident, whether from the Middle East to Europe, or from South America to the United States.