“Prestigious” global risk report overlooks risk of economic growth

The latest report on global risks from the World Economic Forum (WEF), published ahead of its annual Davos Agenda meeting, overlooks the primary driver of global risk: continuous, global economic growth.

This 16th edition of the WEF’s Global Risks Report draws on a survey of nearly 700 global experts in geopolitics, economics and technology, and shines an unstinting spotlight on environmental and climate breakdown, both of which are unfolding in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report cites climate change, environmental damage and biodiversity loss as the top three most serious risks over the coming decade — with climate change described as “catastrophic”.

Yet missing from the list and indeed the entire report is any reference to the underlying force behind humanity’s contribution to all of these: a global, extractive economic system predicated on endless growth.

This omission flies in the face of mounting, peer-reviewed evidence for an intractable correlation between economic growth and environmental impact — increasingly acknowledged by global institutions such as the EU.

It is not clear whether the WEF’s substantial investment in expert consultations and in-depth analyses has deliberately or accidentally by-passed this evidence, although commentators suggest that its implicit economic agenda (some would say its raison d’être) ensures this blind spot prevails.

Despite the uncurious approach to underlying causes, those at the financial front end convey acute awareness of the risks. Peter Giger, chief risk officer of Zurich Insurance Group and one of the contributors to the report, named the biggest long-term risk faced by society as a failure to act on climate change.

The respondents to the risk survey are also concerned that COVID-19 is increasing wealth disparities, worsening social fragmentation, and weakening geopolitical stability, effects that will compound the challenges of dealing with the climate and environment crises.

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