Nuclear war and extreme weather top list of 2018 global threats

The charismatic strongman politics of US President Donald Trump and other national leaders threatens the world's ability to cope with climate change and increases the risk of geopolitical conflict, according to an annual survey of worldwide leaders published by the Swiss-based World Economic Forum (WEF) on Wednesday.

'We must take seriously the risk of a global systems breakdown'.

'The risks we are trying to grapple with here require multilateral solutions but we are moving in the other direction, ' said John Drzik, president of global risk and digital at the consultancy Marsh, which helped compile the report.

In the past, these reports have been dominated by economic risks such market collapses, but environmental threats are now considered the biggest challenges facing humanity.

According to the GRPS, cyber threats are growing in prominence, with large-scale cyberattacks now ranked third in terms of likelihood, while rising cyber-dependency is ranked as the second most significant driver shaping the global risks landscape over the next 10 years.

According to the report, extreme weather events were seen as the single most prominent risk.

The report was released ahead of the WEF foundation's meeting in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos, where more than 2,000 political leaders, economists and celebrity entertainers will gather next week for four days of speeches and panel discussion.

"Attacks against businesses have nearly doubled in five years, and incidents that would once have been considered extraordinary are becoming more and more commonplace".

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The report said in 2017 the WannaCry attack affected 300,000 computers across 150 countries.

Similarly, thousands of attacks every month on critical infrastructure from European aviation systems to USA nuclear power stations show state-sponsored hackers are attempting to "trigger a breakdown in the systems that keep societies functioning", the WEF said. Of the 1,000 respondents, 59 percent pointed to an intensification of risk; just 7 percent suggested a declining of risk. Nearly all respondents (93 percent) believe political or economic confrontations between nations will get worse in 2018, with nearly 80 percent of experts saying that war is a very real possibility.

Fears of global conflict rank high for most of those surveyed.

"It's clear that rapid technological change is causing enormous shockwaves, and its disruptive impact on the world of business is already being seen: for instance, in the increasing risk and potency of cyber attacks".

The greatest risk, according to the report, is the environment, including the increasing incidence of extreme weather events, natural disasters, biodiversity loss, and the failure to address climate change.

Of the risks that could have the biggest impact to the world, after weapons of mass destruction, the next three are environmental. Unfortunately, we now observe a "too-little-too-late" response by governments and organizations to key trends such as climate change... "It's not yet too late to shape a more resilient tomorrow, but we need to act with a stronger sense of urgency in order to avoid potential system collapse", Martin adds.

"This follows a year characterized by high-impact hurricanes, extreme temperatures and the first rise in Carbon dioxide emissions for four years". Biodiversity is being lost at mass-extinction rates, agricultural systems are under strain, and pollution of the air and sea has become an increasingly pressing threat to human health.

Before 2010, environmental risks were never ranked near the top in global risk reports. Public and private companies have become more vulnerable to cyber-attacks as established IT security controls are now failing to protect the current systems.

  • Megan Austin