Global tensions holding back climate change fight, says WEF | Environment

Growing tension between the world’s major powers is the most urgent global risk and makes it harder to mobilise collective action to tackle climate change, according to a report prepared for next week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The WEF’s annual global risks report found that a year of extreme weather-related events meant environmental issues topped the list of concerns in a survey of around 1,000 experts and decision-makers.

But with Donald Trump announcing protectionist measures aimed at China and the European Union in 2018, the report said the international cooperation needed to limit further global warming was breaking down.

“Global risks are intensifying but the collective will to tackle them appears to be lacking. Instead, divisions are hardening,” the report said, noting that nine out of 10 people polled said they expected relations between the leading powers to worsen in 2019.

“The world’s move into a new phase of strongly state-centred politics, noted in last year’s Global Risks Report, continued throughout 2018.”

The global economy slowed in the second-half of 2018 and the report said activity this year would be held back by growing geo-economic tensions, with 88% of respondents expecting further erosion of multilateral trading rules and agreements.

Børge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum, said: “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.”

“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,” he said.

Environmental risks continued to dominate the risks report, although there were also long-term concerns about the dangers posed by cybersecurity breaches in the years ahead.

The report tracks five environmental risks: biodiversity loss, extreme weather events, failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation, man-made disasters, and natural disasters. All five are thought to be in the high-impact, high-likelihood category.

Børge Brende.

Børge Brende. Photograph: Laurent Gilliéron/EPA

The risks report is a collaboration between the WEF, the Zurich Insurance Group and the professional services firm Marsh & McLennan.

Alison Martin, group chief risk officer at Zurich Insurance Group, said: “2018 was sadly a year of historic wildfires, continued heavy flooding and increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is no surprise that in 2019, environmental risks once again dominate the list of major concerns. So, too, does the growing likelihood of environmental policy failure or a lack of timely policy implementation.”

Martin said a significant increase in infrastructure was needed to effectively respond to climate change in order to adapt to the new environment and transition to a low-carbon economy.

She added: “By 2040, the investment gap in global infrastructure is forecast to reach $18tn against a projected requirement of $97tn. Against this backdrop, we strongly recommend that businesses develop a climate resilience adaptation strategy and act on it now.”

Trump’s “America First” agenda has involved pulling the US out of the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, the introduction of tariffs on imports into the US, the announcement that American troops are being pulled out of Syria and the decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

The risks report said: “Reconfiguring the relations of deeply integrated countries is fraught with potential risks, and trade and investment relations among many of the world’s powers were difficult during 2018.

“Against this backdrop, it is likely to become more difficult to make collective progress on other global challenges – from protecting the environment to responding to the ethical challenges of the fourth industrial revolution.”

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