The World Needs to Wake Up to Long-Term Risks – World Economic Forum

Global Governance – Risk Assessment/Mitigation

The World Needs to Wake Up to Long-Term Risks
World Economic Forum
News 19 Jan 2021
:: In 2020, the world saw the catastrophic effects of ignoring long-term risks such as pandemics, now an immediate risk according to the Global Risks Report 2021 released today
:: The COVID-19 pandemic is increasing disparities and social fragmentation, in the next 3-5 years will threaten the economy, and in the next 5-10 years will weaken geopolitical stability
:: Meanwhile, environmental concerns still top the list in terms of likelihood and impact for the next decade
:: Read the full report here [97 pages] and find out more about the Global Risks Initiative here


In collaboration with the Global Future Council on Frontier Risks
COVID-19 has demonstrated the rapid and cascading impacts of a global catastrophic risk manifested. Pandemics—as well as climate change, debt crises, cyberattacks and others—are high-likelihood, high-impact risks on which we focus our at tent ion each year in the Global Risks Report.

We expand our analysis this year to ask high-level risk experts about potential shocks that are less well known but would have huge impacts if manifested. The purpose of this non-exhaustive list is to encourage more expansive thinking about the universe of risk possibilities in the next decade.

The goal is to better enable preparation, rather than paralysis, as well as resilience in the face of crisis. The list below sets out some of the potential frontier risks that are on the minds of risks analysts.

Accidental war
An inter-state skirmish escalates to war as governments fail to control action in the absence of accurate information. Weakened multilateralism leads to failure to contain.

Anarchic uprising
Young activists, fed up with corruption, inequality and suffering, mobilize against elites. AI-powered social media is exploited to spread disinformation, fomenting social chaos.

Brain-machine interface exploited
Companies, governments or individuals utilize burgeoning “mind-reading” technology to extract data from individuals for commercial or repressive purposes.

Collapse of an established democracy
A democracy turns authoritarian through the progressive hollowing out of the body of law. A legal rather than a violent coup erodes the system, with knock-on effects on other democratic systems.

Geomagnetic disruption
A rapid reversal of the Earth’s geomagnetic poles generates destabilizing consequences for the biosphere and human activity.

Gene editing for human enhancement
Governments begin classified genetic engineering programmes. A class of people is born with genetic capabilities better suited for space, Arctic, or deep-sea survival, setting off a genetic arms race between geopolitical rivals with undetermined ethical consequences.

Neurochemical control
Malicious use of pharmaceutical neurochemicals aims to control adversaries. Governments begin to use these drugs for non-lethal law enforcement.

Permafrost melt releases ancient microorganisms
A warming planet leads to permafrost melt in the Arctic. An ancient virus, unknown in modern science, is released into the air, soil, and water systems.

Deployment of small-scale nuclear weapons
New technology allows for proliferation of low-yield warheads, blurring deterrence frameworks and leading to global nuclear war.

* The views in this section represent those of the Global Future Council on Frontier Risks and not of the World Economic Forum or its partners.