Disinformation tops World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report

New Zealand Security Magazine - February-March 2024

WEF report
WEF report: The truth continues to be 'at risk'. Image: World Economic Forum.

Misinformation and disinformation are the biggest short-term risks, while extreme weather and critical change to Earth systems are the greatest long-term concerns, according to the WEF’s Global Risks Report 2024.


Drawing on nearly two decades of original risks perception data, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Risks Report 2024 warns of a global risks landscape in which progress in human development is being chipped away slowly, leaving states and individuals vulnerable to new and resurgent risks.

Against a backdrop of systemic shifts in global power dynamics, climate, technology and demographics, global risks are stretching the world’s adaptative capacity to its limit.

These are the findings of the Global Risks Report 2024, released on 10 January, which argues that cooperation on urgent global issues could be in increasingly short supply, requiring new approaches to addressing risks. Two-thirds of global experts anticipate a multipolar or fragmented order to take shape over the next decade, in which middle and great powers contest and set – but also enforce – new rules and norms.

The report, produced in partnership with Zurich Insurance Group and Marsh McLennan, draws on the views of over 1,400 global risks experts, policy-makers and industry leaders surveyed in September 2023.

Results highlight a predominantly negative outlook for the world in the short term that is expected to worsen over the long term. While 30% of global experts expect an elevated chance of global catastrophes in the next two years, nearly two thirds expect this in the next 10 years.

“91% of risk experts surveyed express pessimism over the 10-year horizon.”

“An unstable global order characterised by polarizing narratives and insecurity, the worsening impacts of extreme weather and economic uncertainty are causing accelerating risks – including misinformation and disinformation – to propagate,” said Saadia Zahidi, WEF’s Managing Director.

“World leaders must come together to address short-term crises as well as lay the groundwork for a more resilient, sustainable, inclusive future.”

Rise of disinformation and conflict

Concerns over a persistent cost-of-living crisis and the intertwined risks of AI-driven misinformation and disinformation, and societal polarisation dominated the risks outlook for 2024.

The nexus between falsified information and societal unrest will take centre stage amid elections in several major economies that are set to take place in the next two years. Interstate armed conflict is a top-five concern over the next two years. With several live conflicts under way, underlying geopolitical tensions and corroding societal resilience risk are creating conflict contagion.

Economic uncertainty and development in decline

The coming years will be marked by persistent economic uncertainty and growing economic and technological divides. Lack of economic opportunity is ranked sixth in the next two years.

Over the longer term, barriers to economic mobility could build, locking out large segments of the population from economic opportunities. Conflict-prone or climate-vulnerable countries may increasingly be isolated from investment, technologies and related job creation. In the absence of pathways to safe and secure livelihoods, individuals may be more prone to crime, militarisation or radicalisation.

Planet in peril

Environmental risks continue to dominate the risks landscape over all timeframes. Two-thirds of global experts are worried about extreme weather events in 2024. Extreme weather, critical change to Earth systems, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, natural resource shortages and pollution represent five of the top 10 most severe risks perceived to be faced over the next decade.

However, expert respondents disagreed on the urgency of risks posed – private sector respondents believe that most environmental risks will materialise over a longer timeframe than civil society or government, pointing to the growing risk of getting past a point of no return.

Responding to risks

The report calls on leaders to rethink action to address global risks, recommending focusing global cooperation on rapidly building guardrails for the most disruptive emerging risks, such as agreements addressing the integration of AI in conflict decision-making.

The report also explores other types of action that need not be exclusively dependent on cross-border cooperation, such as shoring up individual and state resilience through digital literacy campaigns on misinformation and disinformation, or fostering greater research and development on climate modelling and technologies with the potential to speed up the energy transition, with both public and private sectors playing a role.

“Artificial intelligence breakthroughs will radically disrupt the risk outlook for organisations with many struggling to react to threats arising from misinformation, disintermediation and strategic miscalculation,” said Carolina Klint, Chief Commercial Officer, Europe, Marsh McLennan.

“At the same time, companies are having to negotiate supply chains made more complex by geopolitics and climate change and cyber threats from a growing number of malicious actors. It will take a relentless focus to build resilience at organisational, country and international levels – and greater cooperation between the public and private sectors – to navigate this rapidly evolving risk landscape.”

“The world is undergoing significant structural transformations with AI, climate change, geopolitical shifts and demographic transitions,” added John Scott, Head of Sustainability Risk, Zurich Insurance Group.

“91% of risk experts surveyed express pessimism over the 10-year horizon,” he said. “Known risks are intensifying and new risks are emerging – but they also provide opportunities. Collective and coordinated cross-border actions play their part, but localized strategies are critical for reducing the impact of global risks. The individual actions of citizens, countries and companies can move the needle on global risk reduction, contributing to a brighter, safer world.”

The Global Risks Report is part of the WEF’s Global Risks Initiative, which works to raise awareness and build consensus on the risks the world faces, to enable learning on risk preparedness and resilience. The Global Risks Consortium, a group of business, government and academic leaders, plays a critical role in translating risk foresight into ideas for proactive action and supporting leaders with the knowledge and tools to navigate emerging crises and shape a more stable, resilient world.

Babcock
RiskNZ