written by
Sander Graumans

World Economic Forum highlights climate change risks and the pandemic 🌍

Adaptation 5 min read , February 12, 2021
  • The Global Risks Report 2021 includes infectious diseases and climate action failure as top risks.
  • After a year indoors, can we say that our transition to telework is more sustainable?
The Global Risks Report 2021 includes infectious diseases and climate action failure as top risks.

Last year, a global risk became a reality. The pandemic continues to this day, placing people into remote offices, distributing local economics, and killing millions. The pandemic has had a sweeping effect on the welfare of humanity. In the latest Global Risks Report 2021, the World Economic Forum experts named 'infectious diseases' as a short-term global threat. That can’t be argued. And 'extreme weather' and 'climate action failure' also topped the list but for long-term threats. While our current thoughts are focused on the pandemic, climate change risks will clearly have a devastating impact on our planet.

🌳 Growing risk of climate change

Over seven billion people live on our planet and every one of them will be impacted by climate change. According to a WMO statement, the last five years on record, 2015 - 2019, were the warmest ever.

We’re already experiencing extreme shifts in weather patterns, climate seasonal changes, loss of ecosystems, and rising ocean levels. These events are global hazards, where every country, region, and economy is feeling the effect. As climate change accelerates, we can assume more extreme weather events that put us at risk of losing freshwater, impact our ability to produce food, and will increase the mortality rate.

But those are not the only risks that we face. Climate change is rather complex, where it has been described as having both a physical and social-economical impact on our planet. The UN Environment Programme calls climate change a 'threat multiplier', where these extreme changes will affect already fragile situations and strengthen pre-existing social, economic, and political tensions, in each nation-state.

And what about our cities? 🏙️ The United Nations predicts around 2.5 billion more people will live in cities by 2050. From extreme heat waves to flooding due to climate change, our cities are vulnerable. Human life is at risk and immediate action is needed. Climate change risks are happening now and cities are feeling the impact. Climate change adaptation strategies will be important for cities to survive in the future.

☀️Reporting on climate change impact

The World Economic Forum published The Global Risks Report 2021 at the end of January. In its 16th edition, the report covers current and emerging global risks. The risks outlined in the report include extreme weather, climate action failure, and human-led environmental damage, digital power concentration, digital inequality, and cybersecurity failure.

Published by the World Economic Forum, the chart shows the top threats our world faces, ranked by the impact’s likelihood and extent.

The report focuses thoroughly on the social and economic impact of the global pandemic. Including the pandemic’s effects on a global scale but also its impact on social progress. The report calls the pandemic a reason for the 'scale back of years of progress on reducing poverty and inequality'. The pandemic is labeled as a top threat.

🌳What does the report say about the environment? Climate change risks are considered a high impact risk of the decade, even though we saw a decrease in CO2 emissions last year. Economies closing doors and citizens opting for a ‘stay at home’ policy, lockdowns reduced CO2 emissions with one report saying a total decrease of 1551 million tonnes of carbon in the first six months of 2020. Once economies begin to reopen, will the sustainable habits developed in lockdown remain? We’re not so sure. It will take a more collective effort that is longer-term to protect the planet.

The report considers climate change to be an immediate threat despite CO2 reductions in 2020. There are concerns that once economies recover, emissions will soar. 💨 The report emphasises that the shift towards a green economy cannot be delayed until after the pandemic has ended, making 'climate action failure' an important global risk.

🦠 Climate solutions in the pandemic age

There’s no silver lining to a pandemic that has killed millions of people around the world. But it did force citizens to adopt a new way of work, or teleworking.

Teleworking could be a climate change opportunity, meaning the opportunity to create more sustainable work habits. Or a more sustainable way of day-to-day work. The report mentions the drastic shift to teleworking in 2020 as a Fourth Industrial Revolution where the growing digitalisation of human interaction, e-commerce, online education, and remote work — can have a huge impact on sustainable activities and reducing CO2 in industrial countries.

The report highlights work digitalisation as a way to reduce high carbon-producing activities like business transportation. It sounds great, but telework isn’t a slam dunk solution 🏀 to solving climate change. As Scientific American explains, climate change is multi-faceted. A shift to telework might lead to a reduction in emissions from transportation, but you might have an uptick in consumption from households using dirty electricity.

Meaning teleworking might not hold all the solutions for climate mitigation. As the report describes, successful climate change mitigation will have to come from a more holistic transition to a greener global economy.

🌍 Building a more resilient world post-pandemic

If we can take anything away from the last year, we’re not immune to threats. Climate change is a global threat, but it’s a slow-growing threat. We’ve yet to experience the full outcome of our negative impact on the environment. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it has taught us how vulnerable we are. Humanity is fragile, and we have to protect it. We already know of the climate change risks. Now it’s time for action and mitigation.

Sander is Futureproofed's resident marketing wizard. His goal is to get the word out about our expertise in helping cities and companies become future-proofed. When he's not deep-diving in data and strategy you can usually find him on his bike, in the kitchen, or playing video games.

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