The world is confronted with mounting threats, the World Economic Forum has warned in its Global Risk Report. Among the risks are income disparity, the burden of sovereign debt and damage caused by climate change.
The 2013 Global Risk Report compiled by the World Economic Forum (WEF) is based on a poll of over 1,000 economists, policy makers, scientists and civil society activists. The majority of respondents singled out increasing income disparity as the risk which was most likely to manifest itself over the next ten years.
Those polled also said the risk with the greatest potential of wreaking havoc would be a serious collapse of the financial system. Also among the top five in terms of probability and impact are the chronic imbalance of state budgets and the scarcity of water.
Following a year of devastating weather events - including Superstorm Sandy and large-scale floods in China - soaring greenhouse gas emissions were rated as the third most likely global threat. Respondents felt inadequate adaptation to climate change was the environmental risk that would have the gravest consequences over the next decade.
"Those global risks in essence are the alarm signals of our most important systems," said WEF Managing Director and report publisher Lee Howell.
"The world is currently experiencing two storms at the same time," said John Drzik, the head of the corporate consulting group Oliver Wyman. "The two storms - environmental and economic - are on a collision course," he said. "If we don't allocate the resources needed to mitigate the rising risk from severe weather events, global prosperity for future generations could be threatened."
The experts said pressing socio-economic problems had resulted in a let-up in efforts to get on top of climate change challenges: a distorted perception was behind the international community's reluctance to tackle long-term dangers, despite the latest extreme weather events.
In the health sector, the report warned against too much complacency in the face of recent medical advances. It claimed growing antibiotics resistance could push health systems to the brink, while pandemics could spread like wildfire because of the world moving closer together.
The report also contains warnings of "digital conflagrations." Ever since the beginnings of printing right up to our modern days of the Internet it had always been difficult to gauge just how new technologies would impact society. But the democratization of access to information was generally a positive thing.
But the study also pointed to the possibility that such access could have destabilizing effects, such as the recent unrest over the posting of an anti-Islamic film on YouTube. It said the danger of such digital bushfires was rising as the traditional regulating function of the media was eroded.
The latest Global Risk Report is to be debated in Davos at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting from January 23 through January 27. Once again, influential economists, business leaders, scientists and politicians are expected to take part in the gathering, among them German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. They are scheduled to discuss ways to make economic systems more resistant to global risks, while at the same time curbing the dangers of environmental disasters.