According to the South African second Climate Change report by the department of environmental affairs portrays that environmental risks and challenges globally. Photo: Supplied
According to the South African second Climate Change report by the department of environmental affairs portrays that environmental risks and challenges globally. Photo: Supplied

Global Risks Report ranks climate change indicators as the top five leading risks

By Miyelani Mkhabela Time of article published Feb 6, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG – The World Economic Forum Global Risk report shape the context for the next decade to be dominated by climate change while economic growth and geopolitical issues are considered highly. For the first time in the survey’s 10-year outlook, the top five global risks in terms of likelihood are all environmental. 

The report sounds the alarm on Extreme weather events with major damage to property, infrastructure and loss of human life; Failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation by governments and businesses; Human-made environmental damage and disasters, including environmental crime, such as oil spills, and radioactive contamination; Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse (terrestrial or marine) with irreversible consequences for the environment, resulting in severely depleted resources for humankind as well as industries; Major natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and geomagnetic storms.

To younger generations, the state of the planet is even more alarming. The report highlights how risks are seen by those born after 1980. They ranked environmental risks higher than other respondents, in the short- and long- terms. Almost 90% of these respondents believe “extreme heat waves”, “destruction of ecosystems” and “health impacted by pollution” will be aggravated in 2020; compared to 77%, 76% and 67% respectively for other generations. They also believe that the impact of environmental risks by 2030 will be more catastrophic and more likely.

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg is attending a climate strike rally in Lausanne, Switzerland. Hundreds have turned out to the protest, which is being held ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos next week. 

According to the South African second Climate Change report by the department of environmental affairs portrays that environmental risks and challenges globally. Like many other developing countries, South Africa is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change (Kreft, Eckstein and Melchior, 2017). As such South Africa has the task of balancing the acceleration of economic growth and transformation with the sustainable use of environmental resources and responding to climate change.

South Africa and European union symposium on circular economy emphasized potential roadmaps that South Africa can take based on presented scenarios by domestic practitioners and most European countries that have integrated to climate change and circular economy as part of the government and economic development. South African Department of Environmental Affairs, Department of Science and Innovation, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Justice (for the continuous realignment of laws to adjust to climate change and circular economy), Department of Small Business Development ( for the anticipated 1.6% new Circular Economy contribution to GDP), Department of Health (for the chemicals waste and food waste) and lastly Department of Defence, as the other developed nations shows a deeper close relationship of waste with the Department since the world war II.

The South African second Climate Change report emphases that, Water is the primary medium through which the impacts of climate change are being felt in South Africa according to the National Water Resource Strategy (Department of Water Affairs, 2013). Increases in climate variability and climatic extremes are impacting both water quality and availability through changes in rainfall patterns, with more intense storms, floods and droughts; changes in soil moisture and runoff; and the effects of increasing evaporation and changing temperatures on aquatic systems. South Africa has been experiencing a serious drought since 2015, with associated crop losses, water restrictions, and impacts on food and water security.

Simultaneously curbing climate change and responding to the unavoidable impacts of historic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions both timeously and continuously, requires ‘substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks’ (IPCC, 2014:7 ). Climate change action presents a clear path towards the shared aim of a healthier, more prosperous and more secure future. South Africa has the task of balancing the acceleration of economic growth and transformation with the sustainable use of environmental resources and responding to climate change. 

The Global Risks report 2020 and the South African second Climate Change report has high similarities and they both invites South Africa to attend to the process of mitigating future catastrophic climate change challenges and reconsider saving the planet, we are created the manage earth and use the resources on earth for a sustainable climate for future generations. 

Severe threats to our climate account for all of the Global Risks Report’s top long-term risks, with “economic confrontations” and “domestic political polarization” recognized as significant short-term risks in 2020. It further warns that geopolitical turbulence and the retreat from multilateralism threatens everyone’s ability to tackle shared, critical global risks and Without urgent attention to repairing societal divisions and driving sustainable economic growth, leaders cannot systemically address threats like the climate or biodiversity crises, the report warns

Economic and political polarization will rise this year, as a collaboration between world leaders, businesses and policy-makers is needed more than ever to stop severe threats to our climate, environment, public health and technology systems. This points to a clear need for a multistakeholder approach to mitigating risk at a time when the world cannot wait for the fog of geopolitical disorder to lift. These are the findings of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2020, published 16 January 2020. 

The report forecasts a year of increased domestic and international divisions and economic slowdown. Geopolitical turbulence is propelling us towards an “unsettled” unilateral world of great power rivalries at a time when business and government leaders must focus urgently on working together to tackle shared risks.

These are the top 5 risks by likelihood over the next 10 years:

  • Extreme weather events (e.g. floods, storms, etc.)
  • Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Major natural disasters (e.g. earthquake, tsunami, volcanic eruption, geomagnetic storms)
  • Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse
  • Human-made environmental damage and disasters

These are the top 5 risks by the severity of impact over the next 10 years:

  • Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Weapons of mass destruction
  • Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse
  • Extreme weather events (e.g. floods, storms, etc.)
  • Water crises

Global risks are not isolated, and so respondents were asked to assess the interconnections between pairs of global risks. These are the topmost strongly connected global risks:

  • Extreme weather events + failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Large-scale cyber attacks + breakdown of critical information infrastructure and networks
  • High structural unemployment or underemployment + adverse consequences of technological advances
  • Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse + failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Food crises + extreme weather events
  • Short-term risks: percentage of respondents who think risk will increase in 2020:
  • Economic confrontations = 78.5%
  • Domestic political polarization = 78.4%
  • Extreme heatwaves = 77.1%
  • Destruction of natural resource ecosystems = 76.2%
  • Cyberattacks: infrastructure = 76.1%

This would prove catastrophic, particularly for addressing urgent challenges like the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and record species decline. The report points to a need for policy-makers to match targets for protecting the Earth with ones for boosting economies – and for companies to avoid the risks of potentially disastrous future losses by adjusting to science-based targets.

It adds that unless stakeholders adapt to “today’s epochal power-shift” and geopolitical turbulence – while still preparing for the future – time will run out to address some of the most pressing economic, environmental and technological challenges. This signals where action by business and policy-makers is most needed.

Systems-level thinking is required to confront looming geopolitical and environmental risks, and threats that may otherwise fall under the radar. The department of education jointly must have programmes that will shape learners and students for this decade towards climate change vision 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals vision 2030. South Africa can manage to meet the targets for Sustainable Development Goals that are linked with climate change targets while adapting to the industrial revolution of the epoch in its practical energy and manufacturing considerations.

Miyelani Mkhabela is an Economist and Director of Antswisa Transaction Advisory Services. Contactable at: [email protected] and Twitter:@miyelani_hei

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