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Climate change, the digital divide, infectious disease, and unemployment are the top global risks

A new report from the World Economic Forum highlights short- and long-term threats, and calls for “risk champions” to help with risk preparedness.

Climate change, the digital divide, infectious disease, and unemployment are the top global risks
[Source Images: iStock]
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Infectious diseases, employment crises, youth disillusionment, and the so-called “digital divide” are among the risks that business and government leaders must tackle in the next two years, according to the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Report. Threats in the next five to 10 years include state collapse, biodiversity loss, and adverse outcomes from technological advances such as artificial intelligence.

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The report, which the World Economic Forum is issuing a week ahead of its virtual Davos Agenda gathering, notes that environmental issues, such as extreme weather and natural resources crises, will continue to pose significant challenges to business and society in the short and long term.

For business leaders, one of the best ways to address the short-term risks is through investment in training. “Businesses need to invest in skilling programs to provide students and workers with the digitals tools to succeed in the markets of tomorrow,” says Emilio Granados Franco, head of global risks for the World Economic Forum.  “We have already seen how employers rose to the challenge: during the second quarter of 2020, employer provision of online learning opportunities increased fivefold.”

The new report also underscores how interconnected the short-term risks are. The pandemic exacerbated and exposed economic and racial inequities, for example. “In 2020, the long-standing risk of a global pandemic became a reality. COVID-19 has reminded stakeholders how global risks have cascading effects and seldom manifest in an isolated manner,” Franco says. “As 2021 begins to take shape, it is essential that leaders not only address the immediate health and economic consequences of the pandemic, but also tackle the widening inequality and societal fragmentation that COVID-19 has accelerated. ”

The authors conclude that the COVID-19 crisis offers countries, businesses, and non-governmental organizations potential lessons for mitigating some of the risks outlined in the report. It concludes that better analysis, stronger communication, and deeper relationships between the public and private sector could help with future risk preparedness. The report also advocates for the creation of “risk champions,” who can foster conversations between scientists and global leaders and bring together different stakeholders.