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For the first time, our failing environment is seen as the biggest business risk at Davos

Reuters/Gary Hershorn
No bridge over troubled waters.
  • Michael J. Coren
By Michael J. Coren

Climate reporter

It wasn’t long ago that captains of industry fretted most about oil prices, asset bubbles, and unemployment. But since 2007, those participating in the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Switzerland have seen these worries replaced by an even more urgent threat: environmental change.

More than a thousand WEF participants were surveyed this year (pdf) about the biggest global risks facing the world. For the first time, climate change or climate-related issues occupied the top five spots as the most likely global risks. Weapons of mass destruction were the only non-environment related risk to be on the list of threats likely to have the biggest impact. It’s the first time since the poll began that environmental risk has ranked so highly, up from zero in 2010. 1

1
The WEF ranks water risks as a social crisis, but Quartz is includes this as an environmental one as well. Climate change is exacerbating droughts and water shortages such as the ones recently striking South Africa, California, and Australia.

“Climate change is striking harder and more rapidly than many expected,” states the WEF (pdf). The world is now on track to warm by more than 3°C, blowing past what scientists say is a level required to avoid potentially catastrophic consequences. There’s no sign GHG emissions are peaking, states the United Nations (pdf), and every year of delay makes future reductions more difficult and drastic with potential damages measured in the trillions of dollars. The top factors ranked by 1,047 participants from business (38%), academia (21%), and government (15%) surveyed this year are below:

likelihoodimpact
1extreme weatherclimate action failure
2climate action failureweapons of mass destruction
3natural disastersbiodiversity loss
4biodiversity lossextreme weather
5human-made natural disasterswater crises

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