5 Risks the World Needs to Get Real About

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Jun 25, 2019
by Martín Silva Rey
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5 Risks the World Needs to Get Real About

From climate change to the erosion of trust, the world is facing many challenges. Before we can find solutions we need to well-understand the problems Illustration by Wolfgang Irber

“The possibility of loss, injury, or other adverse or unwelcome circumstance; a chance or situation involving such possibility.” That is how the Oxford English Dictionary defines risk. As the planet warms and societies fracture, that possibility of loss is staring us in the face, and every field is seeking new ways to tackle new uncertainties. From finance to politics, and science to the arts, experts are trying to find the best answer to how we can get real on risk. But solutions require that we well-understand the problems. Here are five risks the world is facing in 2019.

A Backlash Against Globalization

US president Donald J. Trump has started a trade war, shaking the foundations of global trade. By raising tariffs and applying quotas, the world’s largest economy is attacking its three main partners – China, Canada and Mexico – which are also retaliating. Former Executive Chairman of the Securities Commission Malaysia Ranjit Ajit Singh explains this new situation questions “what have been the fundamental tenets of how capitalism is operating, this whole notion of free market, and the liberalization and deregulation that many countries have been on for the last 10-15 years…” He adds more countries now are taking this position, “championed by politicians and other parties who say ‘Well, it has to be our country first.’”

Climate Change Is Not a Cliché – It’s Happening

Many people see global warming as a problem of the future. Some world leaders even deny the existence of climate change. But the truth is sea levels are already rising, countries are at risk of disappearing, lakes are drying out – and that means millions of climate refugees. Realizing something is wrong with our natural world, people are starting to call on their governments the world over to take action. As the World Wildlife Fund states, “We must rethink the way we produce and consume energy, food, and water; protect the world’s forests; and help people prepare for a changing world.” Action is required now – not in 2050.

A Missing Pillar in Education

Countries need to embrace science in their pursuit of development. For that to happen, it is fundamental that citizens support such enterprise. However, according to the executive director of the African Academy of Science, Nelson Torto, “governments are not promoting science in Africa” – the world’s fastest growing continent. He explains that most of the population say they don’t see the importance of science, or they “don’t have an appreciation for science.” Then, if a government was to invest in science that would generally be seen as “a waste of money.” But that lack of science education runs the risk of those in positions to act not understanding how to tackle our greatest challenges.

Seismic Drifts Driven by Technology

As one of the fastest-growing industries, technology accelerates progress but is also accompanied by numerous emerging risks. Cybersecurity breaches have become commonplace, threatening businesses and governments. Their damages are estimated to reach a total of $6 trillion annually by 2021, so delaying hardware and software updates to save some money might not be the wisest choice. The constant pressure to innovate risks overlooking important concerns such as data privacy and security details as tech companies frantically create devices to fulfill the expectations of a growing market without considering the wider implications of their devices and apps, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The Erosion of Trust

Leaders are facing new risks too. The demand for immediacy, the advancing tendency for automation, and a growing labor precarity are shaping movements of all kinds worldwide. The erosion of trust in traditional leadership structures makes it harder for political leaders to admit mistakes or encourage constructive dissent. If leaders are not open and humble enough, they risk being feared or hated, rather than trusted and respected. Today, the world is suffering from leaders who don’t know how to lead themselves – let alone the populace. As former director of the FBI James Comey once wrote, “Those leaders who never think they are wrong, who never question their judgments or perspectives, are a danger to the organizations and people they lead.”


All the people featured took part in Salzburg Global Seminar’s annual June Board Weekend 2019, Living Dangerously: How Do We Get Real About Risk?