Climate change has overtaken the water crisis as the biggest risk to the world over the next decade, and once again highlights the role engineers must play.
The body’s Risk 2016 Report, revealed this week, said failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation was likely to have greater impact on the world than weapons of mass destruction, large scale involuntary migration and energy price shocks.
The forum produces the risk report annually, and analyses the potential impact and potential likelihood of 29 global risks over the next 10 years.
Data was gathered from almost 750 experts who responded to its global risks perception survey. Respondents were drawn from business, academia, civil society and the public sector and spanned different areas of expertise, geographies and age groups.
This year geopolitical, societal, environmental and economic threats all ranked within the top five risks in terms of impact.
Engineers are well tuned into the need to mitigate and reduce the risk of climate change. The ICE, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering last month held a summit on resilience and growth for the world’s future cities.
And at the WEF launch, surrounded by members of the financial and economic press, it became clear that they need to make this known.
Particularly because while many of the risks analysed seem unrelated, the report highlights the interconnectivity of many of them – so increasing the impact of engineering interventions.
While engineers may not be able to solve interracial tensions in the Middle East, they can build exploit new technologies to create cities that work and source and maintain clean water supplies – things that may not seem so much on their own but in the global context can all contribute to stability and growth.
This was highlighted by a report by the National Academy of Scientists in the US which gave strong evidence that the 2007 to 2010 drought was one of the biggest triggers for the conflict we’re seeing in Syria today.
The report’s authors call for “resilient infrastructure” to be built, while accepting that conflicts such as Syria make it harder to implement this.
“The more conflicts there are, the more fragments there are in the political landscape, then it’s much more difficult to find those solutions for climate change,” says Zurich Insurance Group chief risk officer Cecilia Reyes.
“The impact of climate change on the food crisis through the impact of clean water exacerbates the political risks and security landscapes – hence the negative feedback loop.”
Here lies the challenge. Can this loop can be broken through a significant engineering intervention?