×
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
The many threats to human well-being and peace

The many threats to human well-being and peace

Misinformation and disinformation, social polarisation, cost-of-living crisis, unemployment and inflation are among the top risks to people and countries. Indians face these risks acutely

Follow Us :

Last Updated : 20 May 2024, 23:01 IST
Last Updated : 20 May 2024, 23:01 IST
Comments

The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently released the Global Risks Report (GRR) 2024. The report is based on the findings of the annual Global Risks Perception Survey conducted by the WEF since the last two decades. The survey conducted during September-October 2023 covered about 1,500 global experts from academia, business, government, the international community, and civil society. The report also draws on the WEF’s Executive Opinion Survey (EOS) to identify risks that pose the most severe threat to each country over the next two years, as identified by over 11,000 business leaders in 113 economies. This data provides insight into local concerns and priorities and points to potential “hotspots” and regional manifestations of global risks. 

The GRR defines global risk as the “possibility of the occurrence of an event or condition which, if it occurs, would negatively impact a significant proportion of global GDP, population or natural resources.”

The methodology for the survey in 2023-24 involved four components: (1) Risk landscape, where respondents were asked to assess the likely impact and severity of global risks over a 1-, 2- and 10-year horizon to illustrate the potential development of individual global risks over time and identify key areas of concern; (2) Consequences, where respondents were asked to consider the range of potential impacts of a risk arising, to highlight relationships between global risks and the potential for compounding crises; (3) Risk governance, where respondents’ opinions were sought on the approaches that have the most potential for driving action on global risk reduction and preparedness; and (4) Outlook, where respondents were asked to predict the evolution of key aspects underpinning the global risks landscape. 

The report covers five broad risk categories: Economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal, and technological. Within these categories, extreme weather events, AI-generated misinformation and disinformation, societal/political polarisation, cost-of-living crisis, and cyberattacks were ranked as those posing the greatest risks in the near and long term.

Out of 34 global risks, respondents ranked the following as the top 10 global risks in the short and long terms -- misinformation and disinformation, extreme weather events, societal polarisation, cyber insecurity, interstate armed conflicts, economic crisis (cost-of-living crisis, unemployment, and inflation), non-voluntary migration, and pollution. Interestingly, in the short-term, misinformation and disinformation were ranked the topmost global risk, followed by extreme weather events and societal polarisation, whereas in the long-term, extreme weather events, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, critical changes in earth systems, natural resources shortages, misinformation and disinformation occupied the top five ranks.

About two-thirds of the respondents ranked extreme weather events as posing the greatest threat to human well-being and society. The year 2023 was the hottest year in recorded history with many countries, including India, experiencing unprecedented heat waves. Interestingly younger respondents ranked loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and critical changes to earth systems as major areas of concern in addition to extreme weather events. The report warns that environmental risks could hit the point of no-return by the end of the decade, and the world may cross one of the climate tipping points by the early 2030s that will have disruptive impacts on communities and countries.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)-related misinformation and disinformation were ranked the second highest risk (56 per cent) by the respondents. This can be used to circulate false narratives and aggravate political and societal polarisation. We in India are aware how fake narratives are being circulated to polarise society, especially with the ongoing general elections, such as that Jawaharlal Nehru was against reservations, that Nehru and Indira Gandhi had a low opinion of Indians, and so on. 

The digital divide between the developed and developing countries, and haves and have-nots will further aggravate disparities and social conflicts. Technological advances along with AI will help develop new tools of disruption and conflict, from malware to biological weapons.

The report emphasises that as polarisation grows and technological risks remain unchecked, ‘truth’ will come under pressure. As many countries, including India, conduct elections, both foreign and domestic actors will leverage misinformation and disinformation and tools to aggravate societal and political divides, which will bring into question the legitimacy of elected governments and might trigger civil unrest and violent protests. The report warns that with truth being increasingly undermined, governments will clamp down on information flow, the press, media, and internet, which will affect people’s freedoms and democracy.

Nearly half of the respondents (46 per cent) ranked societal and/or political polarisation as the next greatest risk, followed by cost-of-living crisis (42 per cent) and cyberattacks (39 per cent). Societal risks and economic downturn are seen as the most influential interconnected risks in the global risks outlook. Many countries are facing severe debt problems, persistent low economic growth rates, high inflation, and unemployment rates. Although India’s post-pandemic economic growth rates have averaged around 4-6 per cent per annum, food inflation rates are high, touching 9.5 per cent last December (and 20-28 per cent for vegetables and pulses), youth unemployment rates for the age group 22-24 years rose to a high of 44.5 per cent during July-September 2023. Large sections of people in India and other countries face a cost-of-living crisis. 

Armed conflicts in many regions from Sudan to Gaza and Ukraine have disrupted the lives and livelihoods of millions who have been forced to flee to safer zones. At the end of 2020, about 2 billion people lived in conflict zones. Ideological and geo-economic divides between the Global North and South, and rising aspirations of the people will fuel more social upheavals.  This constellation of risk factors imperils human well-being and peace.

Despite this gloomy global risks outlook, the report states that there are opportunities for action that can be taken locally or internationally, individually or collaboratively, that can significantly reduce the impacts of these global risks.

(The writer is Lead Author, GEO-7, UN Environment Programme, Nairobi)

ADVERTISEMENT

Follow us on :

Follow Us

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT