Economic Growth

COVID-19: What are the biggest risks to society in the next 18 months?

A passenger wearing a protective face mask waits for his flight at Fiumicino Airport, one of the two airports in the world to obtain the 'Biosafety Trust certification' for the correct application of security measures to prevent infections, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Rome, Italy June 30, 2020. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

The biggest risk to society could be the economic damage caused by the virus. Image: REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Iman Ghosh
Author, Visual Capitalist
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COVID-19

  • These are the biggest risks for society, following on from COVID-19, for the next 18 months.
  • These include the economic, societal and geopolitical issues we could face.
  • The most likely risk to society is the economic damage caused by the virus, as millions are forced out of work or forced to stay at home.
An 18-month view of a post-covid world.
Where do you think we might be in 18 months time? Image: Visual Capitalist

As the world continues to grapple with the effects of COVID-19, no part of society seems to be left unscathed. Fears are surmounting around the economy’s health, and dramatic changes in life as we know it are also underway.

In today’s graphic, we use data from a World Economic Forum survey of 347 risk analysts on how they rank the likelihood of major risks we face in the aftermath of the pandemic.

What are the most likely risks for the world over the next year and a half?

The most likely risks

In the report, a “risk” is defined as an uncertain event or condition with the potential for significant negative impacts on various countries and industries. The 31 risks have been grouped into five major categories:

  • Economic: 10 risks
  • Societal: 9 risks
  • Geopolitical: 6 risks
  • Technological: 4 risks
  • Environmental: 2 risks

Among these, risk analysts rank economic factors high on their list, but the far-reaching impacts of the remaining factors are not to be overlooked either. Let’s dive deeper into each category.

Economic shifts

The survey reveals that economic fallout poses the most likely threat in the near future, dominating four of the top five risks overall. With job losses felt the world over, a prolonged recession has 68.6% of experts feeling worried.

Economic risk
The economic risks Image: Visual Capitalist

The pandemic has accelerated structural change in the global economic system, but this does not come without consequences. As central banks offer trillions of dollars worth in response packages and policies, this may inadvertently burden countries with even more debt.

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Another concern is that COVID-19 is now hitting developing economies hard, critically stalling the progress they’ve been making on the world stage. For this reason, 38% of the survey respondents anticipate this may cause these markets to collapse.

Social anxieties

High on everyone’s mind is also the possibility of another COVID-19 outbreak, despite global efforts to flatten the curve of infections.

Societal risk
The societal risks Image: Visual Capitalist

With many countries moving to reopen, a few more intertwined risks come into play. 21.3% of analysts believe social inequality will be worsened, while 16.4% predict that national social safety nets could be under pressure.

Geopolitical troubles

Further restrictions on trade and travel movements are an alarm bell for 48.7% of risk analysts—these relationships were already fraught to begin with.

Geopolitical Risk
The geopolitical risks Image: Visual Capitalist

In fact, global trade could drop sharply by 13-32% while foreign direct investment (FDI) is projected to decline by an additional 30-40% in 2020.

The drop in foreign aid could also put even more stress on existing humanitarian issues, such as food insecurity in conflict-ridden parts of the world.

Technology overload

Technology has enabled a significant number of people to cope with the impact and spread of COVID-19. An increased dependence on digital tools has enabled wide-scale remote working for business—but for many more without this option, this accelerated adoption has hindered rather than helped.

Technological risk
The technological risks Image: Visual Capitalist

Over a third of the surveyed risk analysts see the emergence of cyberattacks due to remote working as a rising concern. Another near 25% see the threat of rapid automation as a drawback, especially for those in occupations that do not allow for remote work.

Environmental setbacks

Last but certainly not least, COVID-19 is also potentially halting progress on climate action. While there were initial drops in pollution and emissions due to lockdown, some estimate there could be a severe bounce-back effect on the environment as economies reboot.

Environmental Risk
The environmental risk Image: Visual Capitalist

As a result of the more immediate concerns, sustainability may take a back seat. But with environmental issues considered the biggest global risk this year, these delayed investments and missed climate targets could put the Earth further behind on action.

Which risks are of the greatest concern?

The risk analysts were also asked which of these risks they considered to be of the greatest concern for the world. The responses to this metric varied, with societal and geopolitical factors taking on more importance.

Greatest concern for the world
The greatest concern for the world from COVID-19. Image: Visual Capitalist

In particular, concerns around another disease outbreak weighed highly at 40.1%, and tighter cross-border movement came in at 34%.

On the bright side, many experts are also looking to this recovery trajectory as an opportunity for a “great reset” of our global systems.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Economic GrowthHealth and Healthcare SystemsFourth Industrial RevolutionIndustries in DepthTrade and Investment
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