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Case 2: How Safe are our Safeguards? Across every sector of society, decision-makers are struggling with the complexity and velocity of change in an increasingly interdependent world. The context for decision-making has evolved, and in many cases has been altered in revolutionary ways. In the decade ahead, our lives will be more intensely shaped by transformative forces, including economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological seismic shifts.
We need to explore and develop new conceptual models which address global challenges. It is in this spirit that I present the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2012 report. Now in its seventh edition, the report features more refined risk descriptions and rigorous data analysis covering 50 global risks. It aims to improve public and private sector efforts to map, monitor, manage and mitigate global risks. This report captures the input of risk leaders in thought and practice, including members of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Councils. It is also underpinned by the support and guidance of all the partners of the Risk Response Network.
The more complex the system, the greater the risk of systemic breakdown, but also the greater the potential for opportunity. Together, we have the foresight and collaborative spirit to shape our global future and particularly the survival instinct to move from pure urgency-driven risk management to more collaborative efforts aimed at strengthening risk resilience to the benefit of global society. Our flagship research activity is this report. Now in its seventh edition, the report’s research methodology has been significantly revamped. Data and analysis are based on a newly designed survey covering a meaningfully expanded set of 50 global risks across five categories.
The assessments of these risks more than doubled as a result of this year’s survey, with 469 experts and industry leaders responding worldwide. Readers will also see marked improvements in data analysis and visualization in this report. It is a collaborative, intelligence-sharing platform with a social media interface and mobile applications for those engaged in the RRN. Moreover, each of the three cases in this report now feature key discussion questions to contemplate in this regard.
Looking beyond 2012, the Risk Response Network will explore the global risks highlighted in this report in their appropriate regional, country or industry contexts by launching task forces and initiatives designed specifically for their mitigation. Many of these efforts will be driven by an interdisciplinary and multistakeholder community, the Network of Global Agenda Councils, as they are the key experts focusing on risk mitigation within the RRN. We look forward to your comments and feedback, as our aim is to enhance the quality and impact of this report each and every year as part of the Forum’s commitment to improve the state of the world. The report emphasizes the singular effect of a particular constellation of global risks rather than focusing on a single existential risk. Three distinct constellations of risks that present a very serious threat to our future prosperity and security emerged from a review of this year’s set of risks.
The three risk cases describe the links across a selection of the global risks, their interplay and how they are likely to develop over the next 10 years. The cases are initially based on a quantitative analysis of interconnections identified in the survey and then developed further via a qualitative analysis conducted through Forum workshops worldwide and follow-up discussions with project advisors. Analysis of linkages across various global risks reveals a constellation of fiscal, demographic and societal risks signalling a dystopian future for much of humanity. This case underscores the danger that could arise if declining economic conditions jeopardize the social contracts between states and citizens. In the absence of viable alternatives, this could precipitate a downward spiral of the global economy fuelled by protectionism, nationalism and populism. As the world grows increasingly complex and interdependent, the capacity to manage the systems that underpin our prosperity and safety is diminishing. The interdependence and complexity inherent in globalization require engaging a wider group of stakeholders to establish more adaptable safeguards which could improve effective and timely responses to emerging risks.
With over five billion mobile phones coupled with internet connectivity and cloud-based applications, daily life is more vulnerable to cyber threats and digital disruptions. While significant material and human resources were required in the past to exercise political or economic influence on a global scale, borders have become permeable as power shifts from the physical to the virtual world. A healthy digital space is needed to ensure stability in the world economy and balance of power. It focuses on the role of leadership, challenges to effective communication in this information age and resilient business models in response to crises of unforeseen magnitude.
For risk-related planning, Centres of Gravity should serve as focal points to guide strategic interventions. The report also looks ahead to X Factors, which require further research. The notion of a volcanic winter, epigenetics and mega-accidents are some X factors for future consideration. This report serves as the research base on which the Risk Response Network works together on mapping, monitoring, managing and mitigating global risks. Centres of Gravity are the risks of greatest systemic importance, as identified by the Global Risks Survey. Critical Connectors are risks connected to multiple Centres of Gravity, and join the five centres of gravity into one coherent system.