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Global Risks Report 2021 by WEF

Updated: Jan 21

The 16th edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report analyses the risks from societal fractures — manifested through persistent and emerging risks to human health, rising unemployment, widening digital divides, youth disillusionment, and geopolitical fragmentation. Written in partnership with Marsh McLennan, SK Group and Zurich Insurance Group.


Photo: WEF, The Global Risks Report 2021.


The immediate human and economic cost of COVID-19 is severe. It threatens to scale back years of progress on reducing poverty and inequality and to further weaken social cohesion and global cooperation. Job losses, a widening digital divide, disrupted social interactions, and abrupt shifts in markets could lead to dire consequences and lost opportunities for large parts of the global population. The ramifications—in the form of social unrest, political fragmentation and geopolitical tensions—will shape the effectiveness of our responses to the other key threats of the next decade: cyberattacks, weapons of mass destruction and, most notably, climate change.


In the Global Risks Report 2021, WEF shares the results of the latest Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS), followed by analysis of growing social, economic and industrial divisions, their interconnections, and their implications on our ability to resolve major global risks requiring societal cohesion and global cooperation. WEF concludes the report with proposals for enhancing resilience, drawing from the lessons of the pandemic as well as historical risk analysis.


Among the highest likelihood risks of the next ten years are extreme weather, climate action failure and human-led environmental damage; as well as digital power concentration, digital inequality and cybersecurity failure. Among the highest impact risks of the next decade, infectious diseases are in the top spot, followed by climate action failure and other environmental risks; as well as weapons of mass destruction, livelihood crises, debt crises and IT infrastructure breakdown.


“Among the highest likelihood risks of the next 10 years are extreme weather, climate action failure and human-led environmental damage.”

When it comes to the time-horizon within which these risks will become a critical threat to the world, the most imminent threats – those that are most likely in the next two years – include employment and livelihood crises, widespread youth disillusionment, digital inequality, economic stagnation, human-made environmental damage, erosion of societal cohesion, and terrorist attacks.

Economic risks feature prominently in the 3-5 year timeframe, including asset bubbles, price instability, commodity shocks and debt crises; followed by geopolitical risks, including interstate relations and conflict, and resource geopolitization. In the 5-10 year horizon, environmental risks such as biodiversity loss, natural resource crises and climate action failure dominate; alongside weapons of mass destruction, adverse effects of technology and collapse of states or multilateral institutions.


Climate continues to be a looming risk as global cooperation weakens


Climate continues to be a looming risk as global cooperation weakens Climate change—to which no one is immune—continues to be a catastrophic risk. Although lockdowns worldwide caused global emissions to fall in the first half of 2020, evidence from the 2008–2009 Financial Crisis warns that emissions could bounce back. A shift towards greener economies cannot be delayed until the shocks of the pandemic subside.

“Climate action failure” is the most impactful and second most likely long-term risk identified in the GRPS.”

Click here to read the full Report by WEF, 2021.