To hear some presidential candidates on the campaign trail, climate change is nothing to worry about—a hoax foisted on the American public as part of some government conspiracy. But that's not how it's seen by 750 experts from business, academia, civil society and the public sector. Surveyed by the World Economic Forum for its latest Global Risks report, the respondents rank climate change as the gravest threat facing the planet over the next decade. In its potential impact, it's a more serious problem than weapons of mass destruction, cyberwar, terrorism, interstate conflicts, and every other conceivable menace.
One reason climate change figures strongly is that it feeds into other problems. "Climate change is exacerbating more risks than ever before in terms of water crises, food shortages, constrained economic growth, weaker societal cohesion and increased security risks," says Cecilia Reyes, chief risk officer at Zurich Insurance, a major reinsurance group.
It's the first time an environmental challenge has topped the list in 11 years the WEF has been publishing its risk analysis. Weapons of mass destruction was rated the second most impactful problem, followed by water crises. The experts also rated risks by their likelihood in the coming year. Large-scale involuntary migration tops the list (one in 122 people worldwide are now displaced), followed by extreme weather events, and, again, climate change (or as the report puts it, the failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change).
The report discusses how rising temperatures and extreme weather events could affect agricultural productivity and disrupt food supply chains. For example, based on current trends, Sub-Saharan Africa is forecast to see a 40% loss of suitable land to grow maize by 2030, the report says. It calls for more investment in climate-resistant crops (like corn that needs less water to grow) and new types of insurance for farmers so they can invest in agriculture with greater confidence.
It's good to see mainstream experts take climate change seriously, even if many of the politicians here continue to turn a blind eye to the mounting risks. See the full report here.