Published as the 12th annual edition by the World Economic Forum, this year’s findings are testament to five key challenges that the world now faces. The first two are in the economic category, in line with the fact that rising income and wealth disparity is rated by GRPS respondents as the most important trend in determining global developments over the next 10 years. This points to the need for reviving economic growth, but the growing mood of anti-establishment populism suggests we may have passed the stage where this alone would remedy fractures in society: reforming market capitalism must also be added to the agenda.
With the electoral surprises of 2016 and the rise of once-fringe parties stressing national sovereignty and traditional values across Europe and beyond, the societal trends of increasing polarization and intensifying national sentiment are ranked among the top five. Hence the next challenge: facing up to the importance of identity and community. Rapid changes of attitudes in areas such as gender, sexual orientation, race, multiculturalism, environmental protection and international cooperation have led many voters – particularly the older and less-educated ones – to feel left behind in their own countries. The resulting cultural schisms are testing social and political cohesion and may amplify many other risks if not resolved.
Although anti-establishment politics tends to blame globalization for deteriorating domestic job prospects, evidence suggests that managing technological change is a more important challenge for labour markets. While innovation has historically created new kinds of jobs as well as destroying old kinds, this process may be slowing. It is no coincidence that challenges to social cohesion and policy-makers’ legitimacy are coinciding with a highly disruptive phase of technological change.
The fifth key challenge is to protect and strengthen our systems of global cooperation. Examples are mounting of states seeking to withdraw from various international cooperation mechanisms. A lasting shift in the global system from an outward-looking to a more inward-looking stance would be a highly disruptive development. In numerous areas – not least the ongoing crisis in Syria and the migration ows it has created – it is ever clearer how important global cooperation is on the interconnections that shape the risk landscape.
Further challenges requiring global cooperation are found in the environmental category, which this year stands out in the GRPS. Over the course of the past decade, a cluster of environment-related risks – notably extreme weather events and failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as water crises – has emerged as a consistently central feature of the GRPS risk landscape, strongly interconnected with many other risks, such as conflict and migration. This year, environmental concerns are more prominent than ever, with all ve risks in this category assessed as being above average for both impact and likelihood.