Resilience, Peace and Security

What are the biggest threats in 2016?

A woman watches giant waves crashing on the seafront by Brighton pier in southern England December 15, 2011. Britain is expecting to be battered by gale force winds and storms during the next 24 hours, according to the Met Office state forecasting agency.

From migration to governance failure ... these are the risks to global security Image: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Rosamond Hutt
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From the refugee crisis to terrorist attacks and cyber security to climate change, global risks dominated last year’s headlines. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2016 analyses the impact and likelihood of global risks for the coming year, and over a 10-year period. So what are the biggest threats to the world in 2016, and which are most likely to happen?

This year’s assessment finds the biggest risk in terms of potential damage is a failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It is likely to have a bigger impact than the spread of weapons of mass destruction, water crises, large-scale involuntary migration and a severe energy price shock, the report found. This is the first time since the report was launched in 2006 that an environmental concern has topped the list.

The risk most likely to materialize in 2016, meanwhile, is large-scale involuntary migration, followed by extreme weather events, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, interstate conflict with regional consequences and major natural catastrophes. Europe is already experiencing unprecedented levels of refugee flows, and the pressures driving people from their homelands are unlikely to abate in the coming year.


What should we be most concerned about?

Experts surveyed for the report also name the risks they are most concerned about over two time frames: 18 months and 10 years.

The report says global risks that have received widespread media coverage recently such as large-scale involuntary migration and interstate conflict tend to be ranked higher as short-term concerns, while risks related to geographical and societal trends, such as failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation and water and food crises, are more likely to be considered long-term threats.


These are the top five highest concerns in the next 18 months, as nominated by the group of experts:

1. Mass involuntary migration

As well as being the number one risk in 2016 in terms of likelihood, mass involuntary migration is also the biggest global concern in the next 18 months. More than half (52%) of those surveyed named it as their top concern for the coming year and a half.

This follows last year’s influx of refugees into Europe and the UN’s announcement that there are around 60 million displaced people worldwide.


More than half of recent refugees come from three conflict-ridden countries – Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia – but significant numbers are also being forced to leave their homelands because of factors such as climate change and natural disasters.


Involuntary migration is strongly interconnected with other risks that are considered of high concern in the longer term: not only interstate conflict and state collapse but also climate change and water crises.


2. State collapse

Not surprisingly, as crises and conflicts spill over into 2016, the collapse of states is rated the second highest global concern in the next 18 months. Fragile or failing governments leave a space for armed groups to move in, and potentially export conflicts across borders, as ISIS have done in Iraq and Syria.


3. Interstate conflict

In third place is another geopolitical risk: interstate conflict. In 2016, the world is facing the prospect of more strategic competition between strong nations with conflicting interests on the one hand, and an increase in fragility and disintegration of states on the other. When these two trends merge, as they have done in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, for example, conflicts become more likely to take on regional and global dimensions.


4. Unemployment or underemployment

Unemployment, or underemployment, is rated the fourth highest concern in the next 18 months. Almost 30% of young people in the Middle East are unemployed, the highest rate of any region in the world. A lack of access to education and employment opportunities for people living in warzones and those displaced by war means they are likely to fall further behind, leading to more conflict.


5. Governance failure

Governance failure was named the fifth highest immediate concern. The breakdown of national governance is increasing in both societies affected by conflict and in countries facing economic crises and instability. The chart below shows the problem is pervasive across Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa and is among the top three most likely risks in the Middle East and North Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, and Central Asia. If countries fail to get a handle on their governance crises in 2016, it will become much harder to bring about peace and stability and ensure the rule of law.

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