Warning comes after year of wildfires, heavy flooding and increasing greenhouse gas emissions
The world’s ability to fight climate change and other major risks has dropped to “crisis levels” thanks to rising political and economic tensions, the World Economic Forum has warned.
As world leaders and business figures prepare to meet at the Davos summit next week, the Geneva-based organisation said disintegration of international co-operation was the number one immediate risk faced by the world.
Eighty-five per cent of the 1,000 leaders surveyed by WEF expect political confrontations between major powers to increase this year.
Tensions have been ratcheting up as US President Donald Trump pursues a trade war with China that has seen the world’s two largest economies slap tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of imports.
The dispute, which Mr Trump has blamed on Beijing’s “unfair” trade policies, has exacerbated a slowdown in China’s economy which threatens global growth.
The WEF did not reference the US-China trade dispute directly but said rising geopolitcal tensions threaten to undermine efforts to prevent further climate change.
Mr Trump’s administration has slashed a host of environmental regulations in order to boost economic growth, helping US carbon emissions rise 3.4 per cent last year.
China has rapidly boosted its renewable energy capacity but has also provided financial backing for dozens of coal-fired power plants around the world.
Over the medium to long term, environmental risks continued to dominate the concerns of the 1,000 experts and decision makers surveyed by the WEF.
All five of the environmental risks the report tracks were assessed as high-impact, and high-likelihood: biodiversity loss; extreme weather events; failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation; man-made disasters; and natural disasters.
“With global trade and economic growth at risk in 2019, there is a more urgent need than ever to renew the architecture of international cooperation,” said WEF president Børge Brende.
“We simply do not have the gunpowder to deal with the kind of slowdown that current dynamics might lead us towards.
“What we need now is coordinated, concerted action to sustain growth and to tackle the grave threats facing our world today,”
After a year of wildfires, heavy flooding and increasing greenhouse gas emissions, it is “no surprise” the environment is the biggest long-term worry for decision makers, said Alison Martin, chief risk officer, Zurich Insurance.
Despite this, businesses and governments are failing to invest enough to combat catastrophic environmental damage.
“To effectively respond to climate change requires a significant increase in infrastructure to adapt to this new environment and transition to a low-carbon economy, Ms Martin said.
“By 2040, the investment gap in global infrastructure is forecast to reach $18 trillion against a projected requirement of $97 trillion.
“Against this backdrop, we strongly recommend that businesses develop a climate resilience adaptation strategy and act on it now.”