Climate Change

Davos 2023: Natural disasters, extreme weather second-most severe global risk in short term, says WEF report

‘Failure to mitigate climate change’ and ‘failure of climate change adaptation’ are world’s top two most severe risks in the long term   

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Monday 16 January 2023
The Swiss resort of Davos. Photo: @Diop_IFC / Twitter

‘Failure to mitigate climate change’ as well as ‘failure of climate change adaptation’ are the two most severe risks facing the world in the next decade, followed by ‘natural disasters and extreme weather events’ and ‘Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse’.

‘Natural disasters and extreme weather events’ is also the second-most severe risk that the world needs to be prepared for in the next two years, according to the Global Risks Report 2023 released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) January 12, 2023.

Over the next 10 years or by 2033, the interconnections between biodiversity loss, pollution, natural resource consumption, climate change and socioeconomic drivers will make for a dangerous mix, alerted WEF in its flagship annual report.

In the meantime, the current global pandemic and war in Europe has been held responsible for the energy, inflation and food crises. In fact, ‘cost of living’ ranks as the top most serious global risk in the short term (over the next two years).

The WEF report has been released ahead of the organisation’s flagship annual meeting. This year, it is titled as Cooperation in a Fragmented World and will be held from January 16-20, 2023 at the Swiss resort of Davos.

What is ‘Global risk’?

‘Global risk’ is defined as the possibility of the occurrence of an event or condition which, if it occurs, would negatively impact a significant proportion of global gross domestic product, population or natural resources, according to the WEF.

The findings by the WEF are concerning since the impact of natural disasters or extreme weather events disproportionately affects low- and middle-income countries. 

Such events figure among the top five risks in 25 countries, especially developing coastal countries across Latin America, Africa and South-East Asia including India.

In 10 countries, natural disasters and extreme weather events were perceived to be the top most severe risk in the short term or in the next two years, according to the WEF report.

Serial No Country Ranking of natural disaster / extreme events as the severe risk in 2 years
1 Barbados 1
2 Guatemala 1
3 Philippines 1
4 China 2
5 Honduras 2
6 Japan 2
7 Oman 2
8 Ecuador 3
9 Jamaica 3
10 New Zealand 3
Source: Global Risks Report 2023, World Economic Forum

India recorded extreme weather events on 291 of the 334 days between January 1 and November 30, 2022 according to India’s Atlas On Weather Disasters prepared by the Centre for Science and Environment and Down To Earth (CSE/DTE).

This means that the country witnessed an extreme weather event of some sort in one or more of its regions for more than 87 per cent of the time over these 11 months.

These extreme events have a link with human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and the climate crisis as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its sixth assessment report. The IPCC assessment, titled Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis dedicated a chapter to weather extremes for the first time.

“Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have led to an increased frequency and / or intensity of some weather and climate extremes since pre-industrial times,” the IPCC assessment had said in 2021.  

Climate action, biodiversity loss

The world has struggled to make the required progress on climate change despite 30 years of global climate advocacy and diplomacy, the WEF report flagged.

This has been reflected in the WEF Global Risks Report itself for a decade now. ‘Failure on climate action to address climate change’ has continued to figure among the top risks in the report since 2011.

Today, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have all reached record highs. Emission trajectories make it very unlikely that global ambitions to limit warming to 1.5°C will be achieved.

‘Failure to mitigate climate change’ ranks among one of the most severe threats in the short term too. It is also a significant global risk that the world is least prepared for.

Seventy per cent of the respondents in the WEF report said existing measures to prevent or prepare for climate change have been “ineffective” or “highly ineffective”.

Biodiversity within and between ecosystems is already declining faster than at any other point during human history. But unlike other climate-related risks, ‘Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse’ has not been perceived to be of concern over the short term. It has been ranked as the fourth most severe risk in the long term or over the next ten years (by 2033).

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) adopted at 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is thus a significant breakthrough as far as global action on biodiversity is concerned.

Growing demands on public- and private-sector resources from these socio-economic short term crises attributed to geopolitical tensions, will likely reduce the speed and scale of mitigation efforts over the next two years.

These have, in some cases, also reversed progress on climate change mitigation, at least over the short term. For example, the European Union spent at least 50 billion euros on new and expanded fossil-fuel infrastructure and supplies. Some countries including Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and France restarted coal power stations.

The progress towards the adaptation support required for those communities and countries increasingly affected by the impacts of climate change too will be insufficient.

This may include the commitments under the loss and damage breakthrough agreement that came through at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh to provide funding for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters.

In the face of multiple crises, the 18th edition of the WEF annual report advocates for political will and cooperation among global leaders to address “climate and human development”.

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