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mercoledì 21 gennaio 2015
World leaders in Davos to focus on global risks to humanity
Emerging threats to humanity will be on the agenda when the world's political and business leaders meet in Davos, Switzerland, this week. The 45th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum aims to find solutions for global risks – including environmental challenges and those posed by new technologies.
"The risks of the last 10 years were all about economy. Those in the next 10 will be about societal and environmental issues," said Axel P. Lehmann of Zurich Insurance, at the launch last week of a WEF report that polled the opinions of 900 experts, including researchers, politicians and business leaders.
"Past warnings of potential environmental catastrophes have begun to be borne out," the report concludes, criticising failures to adapt to climate change and tackle the growing demand for limited freshwater resources.
The demand for fresh water is so large and unsustainable that wide-scale shortages are expected. The report ranked this impending water crisis as the most dangerous risk facing our civilisation, followed by fast-spreading pandemics.
The meeting begins in Davos tomorrow, just days after we learned that 2014 was globally the hottest year on record. Failure to adapt to climate change came fifth on the WEF report's list of risks ranked by their potential impact on humankind.
As well as assessing impact, the report also estimates the likelihood of these risks becoming a reality. It ranks extreme weather events as second only to international conflicts, with natural catastrophes, not acting on climate change and water crises all featuring in the top 10.
Environmental risks to civilisation have risen in the forum's assessment this year, said Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz of the WEF at the launch. And thanks to a rise in conflicts and distrust among states, the international community will be less able to deal with global health and environment issues, as it expends more energy on squabbling, said Espen Barth Eide, also of the WEF.
Tech as threat
New technologies, such as synthetic biology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, carry largely unknown – but potentially huge – risks, according to the report. Synthetic biology commands tremendous and rising interest from both academia and industry, said John Drzik of Marsh, a risk advice company, but could be risky due to "error and terror". The field is likely to grow dramatically but lacks oversight, he said.
According to Drzik, we face similar hazards from nanotech too. "Risks are not fully understood, yet already we have 180 products on the shelves," Drzik said. Emerging technologies carry a higher risk because the pace of innovation is faster, and governments have not caught up with that, he added. "Bodies that exist haven't done sufficient amount to regulate these risks."