Ever-intensifying threats

By Aurélia Morvan | January 03 2020 11:30AM

Photo: Freepik

Each year, the Global Economic Forum reassesses the risks detected in previous years to analyze their evolution over time. The Global Risks Report 2019 – 14th Edition analyzes threats in three main areas: the security of food systems, the space for civil society and investment in infrastructures.

Food security

In both 2008 and 2016, the Global Economic Forum noted that climate change was taking a toll on the food security system. Notably, climate change was altering temperature and rainfall patterns, thus jeopardizing agriculture. It also caused wider systemic disruptions such as humanitarian emergencies, market volatility, and interruptions to transport networks.

The organization points out that in recent years the threat has intensified. Undernourishment is affecting more and more countries, and the number of people requiring emergency food assistance is “unprecedented in recent decades,”  the Famine Early Warning Systems Network reports.

Since 2015, undernourishment has gained ground worldwide. About 821 million people were underfed in 2017, nearly 11% of the world population. This percentage is the highest since 2009, when this scourge afflicted 840 million people.

In addition to climate change, other factors are undermining food security: 

  • Conflicts. The escalation of conflicts observed in recent years is fuelling the spread of undernourishment. The problem is most pronounced in developing countries such as Yemen or South Sudan, which are also gripped by violent conflicts.
  • Demographics. The growth in global population is not helping the   situation. The report states that “to sustain current levels of food availability between now and 2050 will require an estimated 70% increase in food production.”
  • Waste. Food waste must also be reduced. “Currently, around a third of the world’s food is wasted,” the report points out. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN (FAO) found that in Canada, 78.2 kg of food is wasted per person each year.​
Civil society

In 2017, the Global Economic Forum highlighted the proliferation of obstacles to civil liberties and the influence of nongovernmental organizations. This threat is even more formidable two years later, driven by authoritarian modes of governance in both democratic and non-democratic states.

To restrict civic freedoms –freedom of peaceful assembly or freedom of expression, for example–, governments increasingly invoke the need to tighten security, sometimes without adequate justification. The report confirms a broad-based decline in press freedom around the world. Conditions have deteriorated significantly even in a number of countries in Europe, “the region where protections for journalists are typically strongest.”

The report also points out that conservative groups are gaining strength in some countries, notably in the United States. Despite their diverse causes these groups share one thing in common “the search for protection — protection from change, from outside economic pressures, from new kinds of identities and moral codes,” the Forum notes.

Investment in infrastructures

In 2010, the Global Economic Forum underlined the urgent need to maintain and develop infrastructures, notably in the agriculture and energy sectors. At the time, the report noted that $US35 trillion would have to be invested around the world by 2030.

Today, the figures have ballooned to $US97 trillion that must be invested by 2040, including $28 trillion in China, “the country with the most significant infrastructure needs,” Global Infrastructure Hub reports. However, current trends indicate that China will fall $1.9 trillion short of meeting this goal.

The report proposes several reasons for the acceleration of this need in 10 years:

  • Cyberrisks have become a major threat. Current infrastructures are increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks, and must step up protection of their systems.
  • Climate change is pivotal to global problems. Its repercussion on infrastructures is now better known, which has increased consensus on the need for collective policy responses.
  • The world has entered the era of the energy transition, which also impacts infrastructures. Investment should be channeled into renewable energies, electric vehicle networks and green or digital infrastructures.

The 7 articles in this series:

  1. The environment: the greatest risk to the economy
  2. The U.S. turns inward: a risk to the global economy
  3. Mental health: The social cost of poor mental health
  4. Bacteria and viruses: Future weapons of warfare
  5. Rising sea levels: An increasingly real threat to coastal cities
  6. Ten major future shocks
  7. Ever-intensifying threats
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