Climate risks, data theft top fears at World Economic Forum meeting

A view of the congress centre, the venue of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan 15, 2019.
A view of the congress centre, the venue of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan 15, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - The risks of catastrophic weather and flooding from climate change are exercising business leaders heading into next week's World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, the organisation said on Wednesday (Jan 16).

An annual WEF report - based on a survey of about 1,000 respondents drawn from the Davos community of business leaders, politicians, civil society and academics - shows climate change has become the dominant concern for three years running.

Data theft and cyber attacks have joined climate change in the top tier of worries, but respondents also highlighted anxiety about worsening international relations and the risk that poses for the world economy.

Just under 90 per cent of people in the survey, conducted over September and October, expected international trading rules and agreements to weaken further, as President Donald Trump's "America First" agenda undermines the architecture on which global trade has been built.

"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," Borge Brende, president of the WEF, said in a press statement accompanying the 114-page report.

"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.

The growing risk of Britain crashing out of the European Union without a Brexit deal in late March is also worrying global institutions and will figure at the meetings next week in the Swiss Alps, with a number of British and EU officials attending.



Fully 90 per cent of the respondents expected "further economic confrontation between major powers in 2019", although the survey was conducted before Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed last month to try to negotiate a peace pact on their tariffs war.


Trump has also withdrawn from the Paris accord on climate change. While other countries agreed at UN talks last month on a common action plan, the most vulnerable states along with environmentalists warned the pact lacked the ambition needed to restrict carbon emissions.

The WEF report showed mounting alarm about the risks of extreme weather and a failure to take mitigating action as temperatures rise, detailing the possibility of many low-lying cities in Asia, Europe and North America being wiped off the map by flooding.

China alone has more than 78 million people in cities at risk of inundation, a number increasing by 3 per cent every year, the report said, citing World Bank research.

Alison Martin, group chief risk officer at Zurich Insurance Group, said 2018 was already marked by historic wildfires, heavy flooding and rising 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," she warned in the WEF press statement.

For environmentalists, such a policy failure has been made more likely by the election of Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who is due to address the annual WEF gathering.

Like Trump, Bolsonaro is a climate sceptic. But the two populist leaders won't get to rub shoulders in Switzerland after the US President cancelled his trip owing to the budget crisis in Washington.