Geo-Economics and Politics

Global Risks Report 2024: Three risks we aren't talking enough about

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Emerging risks ... We all know about climate change and cyberattacks, but which threats are less talked about? Image: Unsplash/Shahadat Rahman

Sophie Heading
Lead, Global Risks, World Economic Forum
Thea de Gallier
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • The Global Risks Report 2024 highlights the top threats facing the world over the next decade
  • Mis- and disinformation, extreme weather events, societal polarization, cyber insecurity and armed conflict will be the top risks for the next two years.
  • But we also need to pay attention to the under-the-radar risks, the report warns.

From economic downturn and unemployment to climate change and misinformation, the challenges the world might face in the short and medium-term future are myriad.

To understand the size and impact they represent, they’ve been ranked by experts from academia, government, business and society, and compiled in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024.

Over the next two years, the greatest risks are disinformation, extreme weather events, societal polarization, cyber insecurity and armed conflict. Over the next 10 years, the top risks are extreme weather events, critical changes to Earth systems, biodiversity and ecosystem loss, natural resource shortages, and disinformation.

Perhaps the top risks are not surprising, given the ongoing conflict in several regions, escalating climate change and fast-evolving tech landscape. But it is worth paying attention to some of the risks that are as yet under the radar. They reveal a much wider and interconnected picture of global risk.

Here are 3 areas of growing concern.

Organized crime as a result of economic downturn

Organized crime is on the rise globally, and while currently perceived as a relatively low-risk factor, ranking 28th and 31st over the two- and 10-year time horizons, the Forum’s analysis shows it has a direct connection to the top-ranked risks.

Economic downturn, lack of economic opportunity, cyber insecurity and involuntary migration – all higher-ranked risks – are all potential drivers of illicit economic activity. If legitimate employment can’t be found because of reasons related to the main risks, crime might become an attractive alternative.

This could have a destabilizing impact on a broader range of countries for years to come, the report warns. The data indicates an increase in activity across various criminal markets and the danger to lives is significant. Between 2000 and 2019, criminal activity resulted in a comparable number of deaths to all armed conflicts worldwide, averaging around 65,000 deaths annually.

Three key areas were identified in the report as likely to fuel crime syndicates and illicit markets: political and economic instability; technological advancements allowing greater connection between criminals; and the breakdown of governance.

Current risk landscape
The five risk categories. Image: Global Risks Report 2024, World Economic Forum

Natural disasters and disruption

Unsurprisingly, weather-related disasters were top of the most likely risks over the next decade, with 66% of respondents in the report ranking extreme weather as the greatest concern. The EU’s Copernicus Earth observation programme reported that 2023 was the hottest year on record, worsening climatic effects such as flooding and wildfires, and warming Arctic temperatures.

But non-weather-related events are also a concern, even if they rank lower down on both the two-year and 10-year indices (33rd). Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, while not directly related to climate change, can cause serious disruption and devastation. More than 3,700 people were made homeless in Iceland due to volcanic activity, the New York Times reported in January 2024, due to volcanic activity.

The knock-on effect of non-weather-related natural disasters is manifold: entire regions can be displaced or destroyed, leading to other consequences like involuntary migration, unemployment and disruption to critical infrastructure, the report says.


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Censorship in response to misinformation

Distrust in the media and easy access to AI is a dangerous combination, the report warns, with misinformation as the top-ranked risk in the two-year risk rankings.

Research from Reuters shows that marginalized groups are more likely not to trust mainstream media, and these groups are also at risk from the highly ranked areas of concern identified in the report like economic downturn and unemployment.

Alongside this, there is the proliferation of artificial intelligence and the increasing ease with which false and manipulated information can be generated. Together, these factors could help create “fertile ground for misinformation and disinformation to take hold and polarize communities, societies and countries”, the report’s authors say.

Misinformation and disinformation is inextricably linked with another risk that appears much further down the rankings: censorship and surveillance (21st and 14th, respectively, over the two and 10-year risk timelines). The danger here, the report suggests, is not misinformation itself, but rather responses to it.

“The proliferation of misinformation and disinformation may be leveraged to strengthen digital authoritarianism and the use of technology to control citizens. Governments themselves will be increasingly in a position to determine what is true, potentially allowing political parties to monopolize the public discourse and suppress dissenting voices, including journalists and opponents.”

As these examples show, risks rated as low concern are often associated with higher-ranked risks, as a consequence of a bigger problem. The report highlights the need for leaders and policymakers to be aware of seemingly low-impact risks when making plans to mitigate the most urgent ones.

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