Geopolitical tensions combined with technology will drive new security risks
Misinformation and disinformation are biggest short-term risks, while extreme weather and critical change to Earth systems are greatest long-term concern, according to the Global Risks 2024 Report from the World Economic Forum.
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.
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.
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.
“An unstable global order characterized 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, Managing Director, World Economic Forum. “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 polarization dominated the risks outlook for 2024. Misinformation and disinformation may radically disrupt electoral processes in several economies over 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.
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, militarization or radicalization.
Environmental risks could hit the point of no return
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 materialize over a longer timeframe than civil society or government, pointing to the growing risk of getting past a point of no return.
The report calls on leaders to rethink action to address global risks. The report recommends 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.
“That this year’s WEF Global Risks Report ranks “cyber insecurity” in its top five of the most severe risks over the next two years isn’t surprising, with the threat of cyberwarfare a recurring theme throughout the report, as well as the ‘rapid integration of advanced technologies’ that are exposing more organizations and individuals to exploitation. The widespread adoption of cloud computing introduces new levels of vulnerability and management complexity that can be targeted by bad actors,” Bernard Montel, EMEA technical director and cybersecurity strategist, Tenable, told Help Net Security.
“It’s also worth noting that AI has a major role to play in cyber defense. It can be used by cybersecurity professionals to search for patterns, explain what they’re finding in the simplest language possible, and help them decide what actions to take to reduce cyber risk. AI can and is being harnessed by defenders to power preventive security solutions that cut through complexity to provide the concise guidance defenders need to stay ahead of attackers and prevent successful attacks. Harnessing the power of AI enables security teams to work faster, search faster, analyze faster and ultimately make decisions faster.”
“Particular concern surrounds the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies to boost cyber warfare capabilities, with good reason. While AI has made astronomical technological advancements in the last 12 – 24 months, allowing an autonomous device to make the final judgment is incomprehensible today. While AI is capable of quickly identifying and automating some actions that need to be taken, it’s imperative that humans are the ones making critical decisions on where and when to act from the intelligence AI provides,” Montel concluded.
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.
“The world is undergoing significant structural transformations with AI, climate change, geopolitical shifts and demographic transitions. 91% of risk experts surveyed express pessimism over the 10-year horizon. 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,” said John Scott, Head of Sustainability Risk, Zurich Insurance Group.