Climate Change

Extreme weather events most severe global risks over next 10 years: WEF

Through 2026, extreme weather events in top 3 risks in 13 countries; climate tipping points expected to change weather patterns

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Thursday 11 January 2024
India experienced extreme weather events on 235 of the 273 days — a little over 86 per cent of the days — from January 1-September 30, 2023. Photo: iStock

Extreme weather events have scaled up the ladder from last year to emerge as the most severe risk the world needs to prepare for in 2024 through 2026, according to the Global Risks Report 2024.

They also rank as the most severe global risks over the next 10 years through 2034 in the 19th edition of the annual report launched by the World Economic Forum, on January 10, 2024.

El Nino or the warming phase of the alternating El Nino Southern Oscillation cycle is expected to strengthen and persist until May 2024. This could continue to set new records in heat conditions, with extreme heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and flooding anticipated, said the WEF report.

Top 10 risks in the short (two years) and long term (10 years)

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.

The Global Risks Report examines some of the most serious worldwide threats that may arise over the next 10 years, taking into account the planet’s warming, economic instability, rapid technological advancement and conflict.

Global risks have been classified as economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological over short-term (one to two years) and long term (10-year) horizons to assist decision-makers in adopting a dual vision that balances short and longer-term risks.

In short term, extreme weather events among top five risks in 24 countries

Extreme weather events figure among the top five risks in 24 countries in the short term or in the next two years, according to the report. In 13 countries, these events are perceived as the top three risks in the short term or in the next two years. 

Extreme weather events among top three risks in 13 countries


Ranking of natural extreme weather events as the severe risk in two years

Dominican Republic








New Zealand


















Source: Global Risks Report 2024, World Economic Forum

According to Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment, India experienced extreme weather events on 235 of the 273 days — a little over 86 per cent of the days — from January 1, 2023 to September 30, 2023. 

But these events do not emerge as the top five risks in the WEF report. In India, the top five risks in the short term are misinformation and disinformation (1st), infectious diseases (2nd), illicit economic activity (3rd), inequality (wealth and income) (4th) and labour shortage (5th).

Critical change to Earth systems, biodiversity loss, natural resource shortage

Along with extreme weather events, critical changes to Earth systems, biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and natural resource shortages feature among the top four global risks in the long term. These have been categorised as environmental risks. 

Of these, critical change to Earth systems is the latest entrant. The report has defined these as long term, potentially irreversible and self-perpetuating changes to critical planetary systems. These occurred as a result of breaching a critical threshold or ‘tipping point’, at a regional or global level, that had abrupt and severe impacts on planet health or human welfare. 

This includes, but is not limited to, sea-level rise from collapsing ice sheets, carbon release from thawing permafrost and disruption of ocean or atmospheric currents.

In October 2023, the United Nations University — Institute for Environment and Human Security too alerted the world about the risks of the six interconnected risk tipping points.

“The global environmental risks, including the extreme weather events, are inter-related and mutually reinforcing,” said Gill Einhorn, head of innovation and transformation for Centre for Nature and Climate, World Economic Forum.

Many of the climate tipping points are expected to change weather patterns and increase extreme weather, which will lead to positive feedback loops of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the WEF report.

This is of concern as there is a greater chance of extreme weather occurrences and ecosystem breakdowns in places where there are inadequate adaptations to new climates due to abrupt and irreversible changes to Earth systems. 

Climate tipping points in the long term could exacerbate existing hazards, resulting in socio-environmental risks. Over the next 10 years, these global and environmental changes may have a significant impact on economic growth and will also drive food, water and health insecurity.  

The immediate effects might lower agricultural output and perhaps result in simultaneous harvest failures in important areas.

Contrary to expectations, more than 80 per cent of respondents in this year’s research stated that their primary concerns are no longer the energy and food crises, which were listed among the top threats of 2023. This might be a result of the report based on the global survey carried out in September 2023. 

However, the outlook may have since shifted given the conflict in West Asia, particularly if hostilities escalate. Further, the climate pressures may yet drive prices higher, said the report.

A warmer winter in the Northern Hemisphere, for example, followed by the easing of the El Nino cycle over the summer, could partially alleviate further energy price spikes resulting from any escalation of the Israel-Gaza or Russia-Ukraine conflicts, the report said 

Worrying developments emerging today have the potential to become chronic global risks over the next decade. But the WEF report and experts said there remain key opportunities for action that can significantly reduce the impact of global risks.

Research and development can boost preparedness for inevitable environmental risks. For example, a major advancement in research that makes nuclear fusion power generation feasible might be a game-changer, accelerating the shift to Net Zero and producing clean energy while lowering the danger of pollution.

“The future is not fixed. A multiplicity of different futures is conceivable over the next decade. Although this drives uncertainty in the short term, it also allows room for hope,” said Saadia Zahidi, managing director, WEF, in the report. 

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