World Economic Forum predicts a decade of ‘polycrises’

Several simultaneous economic, political and environmental shocks will shake the globe over the next decade and the world is trying to navigate them.

The next 10 years will be a period of transformation for the global economy, threatened by a series of intertwined crises. Veteran economist and well-known pessimist Nouriel Roubini, also known as Dr. Doom, for his bleak outlook on the future, has broken down 10 massive economic challenges ranging from unprecedented debt chaos to global climate disruption in his recent book, Megathreats.

The world has experienced each of these crises individually before, but pundits like Roubini and economic historian Adam Tooze fear these threats could morph into a unique “polycrisis,” a state of risk in which multiple crises intersect to enhance their collective amplify effects. And now one of the world’s leading forums for international business and political cooperation agrees that we stand on the brink of such a crisis

As governments and business leaders around the world scramble to tackle near-term challenges like rising inflation and recession risks, longer-term risks could consolidate into a polycrisis by the end of the decade, according to a new report on global risks from The World Economic Forum.

“The collective focus of the world is shifted to ‘surviving’ today’s crises,” WEF Executive Director Saadia Zahidi wrote in the report’s foreword. “Yet much-needed attention and resources are diverted from emerging or rapidly accelerating risks.”

Long-Term Threats

The report, released Wednesday ahead of next week’s WEF annual conference of business and policy leaders in Davos, Switzerland, surveyed 1,200 global risk experts from academia, business and government associated with the WEF. Experts were asked for their opinion on the most important short- and long-term risks that the world will face in the next ten years.

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While problems such as rising living costs, slow economic growth, and global food and energy shortages are among the most pressing near-term global risks, the report found that long-term threats are primarily focused on ecological crises.

The four most pressing long-term risks of the coming decade are failure to mitigate climate change, failure to adapt to climate change, extreme weather events and the threat of biodiversity collapse. Left unaddressed, the WEF says short-term and long-term risks could combine into a collective crisis that leaders may not be prepared for.

“These current and future risks can also interact with each other to form a ‘polycrisis’ – a cluster of related global risks with compounded effects such that the total impact exceeds the sum of the individual parts,” the report states.

The era of the “polycrisis”.

The WEF report adds to a growing chorus of warnings about the collective risks humanity may face in the next decade.

Tooze even popularized the term polycrisis as a complex network of intricate crises which, once combined, greatly complicates the task of tackling them all. He heralded the arrival of a polycrisis age financial times in an op-ed last year that warned that geopolitical crises combined with the threat of a global ecological collapse are just the beginning.

“Our never-ending tightrope walk will only become more precarious and unnerving,” he wrote, as isolationism ramps up and global cooperation becomes less tenable.

The WEF report took the same stance that global cooperation is usually a “guard rail” against global risks, the geopolitical dynamics in the first half of the 2020s stemming from US-China tensions and the Ukraine war , which threatens to weaken international relations to combat climate change and global development when they are most needed.

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The Ukraine war has also refocused many governments’ priorities on short-term risks, the WEF said, triggering global food and energy shortages while simultaneously exacerbating inflation worldwide. As a result, longer-term risks have received relatively little attention, the report warned, adding to the risk of a polycrisis.

“In the coming years, as prolonged simultaneous crises embed structural changes in the economic and geopolitical landscape, they will accelerate the other risks we face,” the report said.

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