London: The risks of catastrophic weather and flooding from climate change are exercising business leaders heading into next week’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos.
An annual WEF report — based on a survey of about 1,000 respondents drawn from the Davos community of company chiefs, politicians, civil society and academics — listed climate change as the dominant concern for a third year running.
“The world is sleep-walking into catastrophe,” Alison Martin, group chief risk officer at Zurich Insurance Group, said at the launch of the 114-page report in London on Wednesday.
Data theft and cyberattacks have joined climate change in the top tier of worries, but respondents also highlighted anxiety about worsening international relations and the attendant risks for the world economy.
Just under 90 per cent of people in the survey, conducted over September and October, expected international trading rules and agreements to weaken further, as President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda undermines the architecture of global trade.
“The muscles are not really where we would like them to be if faced with a new recession,” WEF president Borge Brende said, citing the trade tensions and high budget deficits in many economies.
The growing risk of Britain crashing out of the European Union without a Brexit deal in late March is also worrying global institutions and will figure at the meetings next week in the Swiss Alps, with a number of British and EU officials attending.
Jobs and long-term investments in Britain are at risk until some way out is found from the impasse, said John Drzik, president of global risk and digital at US professional services company Marsh.
“Once Brexit is resolved, even if resolved adversely, at least we remove some uncertainty and it may clarify the ability to invest in some things. The uncertainty is killing it now,” he said at the WEF launch.
The report also discussed the risks posed by rapid-fire technological advances in artificial intelligence and quantum cryptography, along with the growing problem of digital isolation among stressed-out individuals.
Fully 90 per cent of the respondents expected “further economic confrontation between major powers in 2019”, although the survey was conducted before Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed last month to try to negotiate a peace pact on their tariffs war.
Trump has also withdrawn from the Paris accord on climate change. While other countries agreed at UN talks last month on a common action plan, the most vulnerable states along with environmentalists warned the pact lacked the ambition needed to restrict carbon emissions.