The world is a riskier place due to persistent economic problems reducing our ability to tackle environmental challenges, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2013 report.

The report analyses 50 global risks in terms of impact, likelihood and interconnections, based on a survey of over 1000 experts from industry, government and academia.

The report highlights wealth gaps and unsustainable government debt as the top two most widespread risks, reflecting a slightly more pessimistic outlook overall for the coming ten years.

Respondents rated rising greenhouse gas emissions as the third most likely global risk overall, following the extreme weather of 2012, from Hurricane Sandy to flooding in China.

Global Risks 2013 introduces three risk cases based on the survey results:

1. Economy and the environment

Continued stress on the global economic system looks likely to absorb the attention of leaders for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the environment is coming under equal stress. Extreme weather events that are likely to become more frequent and severe could threaten to prevent an effective long-term solution to economic problems.

2. Digital Wildfires

Social media allows information to spread around the world at breakneck speed in an open system where norms and rules are starting to emerge but have not yet been defined. This ‘hyper connectivity’ could potentially enable the viral spread of information that is either intentionally or unintentionally misleading or provocative. This case considers how ‘digital wildfires’ spread, and asks what can be done to put them out.

3. Health

The medical successes of the past century may be creating a false sense of security. human innovation may no longer be outpacing bacterial mutation. None of the new drugs currently in the development pipeline may be effective against certain new mutations of bacteria that could turn into a pandemic. Are there ways to stimulate the development of new antibiotics as well as align incentives to prevent their overuse?

The report also highlights ‘X Factors’–emerging concerns which warrant more research, such as the costs of a world population that is living increasingly longer. Find out more about a profession in calculating risk.

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