The world is at risk of ‘global catastrophes’ in coming years, report warns

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Facing threats from extreme weather events, artificial intelligence and cybercrime, the world is headed for “global catastrophes” over the coming years, a new report has warned.

The World Economic Forum released its latest Global Risks Report Wednesday, painting a grim picture of the near future after a year of conflicts, record-setting heat and cost of living concerns around the globe.

The report comes days ahead of the annual WEF meeting – a five-day gathering of world leaders and corporate executives that kicks of on Jan. 15 in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

The findings are based on a survey of nearly 1,500 experts, industry leaders and policymakers, with more than half of the respondents predicting some instability and a moderate risk of “global catastrophes” in the short term.

Three in 10 forecast more turbulent and stormy times with an “elevated risk of global catastrophes” over the next two years.

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For the next decade, the outlook is even worse with 46 per cent of survey respondents anticipating “upheavals and elevated risk of global catastrophe” and 17 per cent saying “global catastrophic risks” are looming in the long term.

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What are the biggest risks?

The report listed misinformation and disinformation as the most severe risk over the next two years, highlighting how rapid advances in technology also are creating new problems or making existing ones worse.

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The authors worry that the boom in generative AI chatbots like ChatGPT means that creating sophisticated synthetic content that can be used to manipulate groups of people won’t be limited any longer to those with specialized skills.

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“The widespread use of misinformation and disinformation, and tools to disseminate it, may undermine the legitimacy of newly elected governments,” the report warned.

“Resulting unrest could range from violent protests and hate crimes to civil confrontation and terrorism,” added the report.

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Extreme weather events were identified as second-biggest threat  over the next two years and the most severe in the next decade.

A report by the European climate agency Copernicus on Tuesday confirmed 2023 was hottest year on record, and experts warn that could be the “new normal”.

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Over a 10-year horizon, environmental risks including biodiversity loss, natural resource shortages and critical change to the Earth’s systems also topped the rankings, the WEF survey showed.

Cost of living and inflation will continue to remain major concerns this year amid fears of a global recession – that was widely anticipated last year but was averted.

“Although a ‘softer landing’ appears to be prevailing for now, the near-term outlook remains highly uncertain,” the report said.

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— with files from Reuters and The Associated Press.


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