World Economic Forum survey finds CEOs disagree
“The outlook for the global economy is very uncertain, and that’s what we’ve seen in the responses this year – it’s just fragmentation,” she said.
“The pandemic has really highlighted how complex and interconnected the risks are, and it will attract the attention of different leaders in different directions.”
The Switzerland-based think-tank typically rolls out this annual report as a curtain-raiser for its Davos summit of the world’s elite, but the jamboree was recently postponed for a second year in a row due to COVID-19.
The survey identified the top concern of Australian business leaders as cybersecurity, followed by extreme weather events, ‘climate failure’ and infectious disease.
Cybersecurity was also high on the concerns of British and New Zealand leaders, but most European bosses instead named ‘climate action failure’ as the risk that worried them the most.
Japanese leaders were especially worried about “prolonged economic stagnation” and Koreans about “bursting of the asset bubble”. The main preoccupation of Indians was the “divide in interstate relations”, and American business leaders focused on asset bubbles.
Chinese leaders have called “extreme weather events” their main concern, but “failure of climate action” could only get 23rd place in their risk ranking.
Ms Klint said she was surprised more country leaders haven’t joined Australia in putting cybersecurity at or near the top of the list.
“Cyber threats are now growing faster than our ability to prevent and deal with them effectively, and that’s really of great concern,” she said. “The fact that more countries are not putting cybercrime higher on the agenda signals a potential blind spot.”
Reflecting the European bias of the WEF stakeholder base, the report primarily focused on the specter of climate action failure.
But the WEF has also added a new chapter on the dangers of the world’s precipitation into space, which is starting to crowd out the planet’s low and mid-earth orbits.
The number of satellites could multiply by more than six over the next decades, creating the risk of collisions and millions of additional pieces of dangerous debris.
“The planet is actually surrounded by a floating dump of man-made space debris – discarded rocket parts, broken satellites – and they are moving around the earth at around 17,000 miles per hour,” Ms. Klint said.
Collisions and damage from debris could disrupt satellite-dependent services such as navigation, financial transactions, and data transmission.
There was also a risk of damage to the ozone layer, butterfly effects from black carbon emissions and possible alterations in the polar jet stream.
“The increased exploitation of these orbits carries the risk of congestion, increased debris and the possibility of collisions in an area with few governance structures to mitigate new threats,” the report said.
The WEF cited a survey of more than 900 of its stakeholders – business leaders, academics, NGOs and bureaucrats – which cited space, alongside artificial intelligence, as two of the areas where international cooperation was the least developed.
“Technology is developing at a faster rate than its regulation,” the report says, and “more robust formal governance” would be needed.
The WEF also focused on Australia’s cybersecurity concerns, noting the 435% increase in ransomware attacks; the cyber-skills deficit of 3 million workers; the power of quantum computing to break encryption; and the ever-growing digital dependence, exacerbated by remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Companies are under increasing pressure to digitize and automate, and this often relies on aging infrastructure or sometimes insecure network protocols,” said Ms. Klint. “This has just opened up more avenues of attack for threat actors.”
Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the report highlighted the importance of the ability of governments to respond to rapidly changing circumstances, as well as “their ability to maintain the trust and compliance of society through decisions based on principles and effective communications ”.
The WEF also noted that “the widespread availability of affordable tests will be crucial as restrictions are increasingly lifted and greater social activity causes demand to exceed supply.”
On climate, the report said that “the risk of a disorderly climate transition” was exacerbated by “the historic protection of climate change externalities against citizens and businesses”, as well as by the high cost of decarbonization and ” the many competing interests at stake “.
“In the short term, these complexities are likely to cause many actors to avoid or postpone action,” the WEF authors wrote. They accused some governments and companies of “deliberately maneuvering to slow down or slow down the green transition”.