ONE of the key reports I always look forward to reading at the start of every year is the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report. This is more so in 2020 since it’s the start of a new decade, and for some it means literally pressing the reset button on and starting afresh.
For sustainability leaders and activists, 2020 represents a new decade of action, and a decisive one, too, because what we choose to do or the decisions we make in this decade will heavily shape the future of our next generation.
The 15th Global Risks Report released on Jan 16 revealed that our global risk landscape is changing faster than our ability to manage it. And for the very first time in its 15-year history of publication, all five of the top risks by likelihood and three by impact are climate-related.
The top five concerns were all related to the environment, from extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and fires to biodiversity loss and events like oil spills and radioactive contamination. We experienced many of these events in Malaysia last year!
The reality is that never before has one particular issue dominated the survey in this way, not even through the 2008-2009 financial crisis when economic concerns occupied at most three out of the five top spots by likelihood and four by impact.
There have been some attempts to rationalise these findings to explain why risk perceptions have shifted so drastically.
Firstly, climate change is seen as a priority for youths. For most, it is the defining issue of their generation.
It was reported that youth respondents – 90% of whom belong to the Global Shapers Community, a group of dynamic young leaders across the world – claimed that “extreme heat”, “destruction of ecosystems” and “health impacted” by pollution would continue to worsen throughout the year. We have seen the Greta Thunberg effect with close to eight million youths taking to the streets, calling for governments to take the climate crisis more seriously.
Secondly, people are more well-informed. The Oxford Dictionary chose “Climate Emergency” as the word of the year for 2019. It was reported that the use of this word was 100 times more common in September 2019.
We have also seen various publications streamlining their use of language to depict a sense of urgency when it comes to climate events.
Media coverage of climate-related events has also increased drastically. The Centre for Governance and Political Studies’ (CENT-GPS) tweet about Malaysian cities that would be inundated by water was re-tweeted close to 12,000 times.
Thirdly, the climate crisis has hit almost every continent and chances of people coming into direct contact with natural disasters have increased substantially. In 2019, we saw record-breaking temperatures. In Malaysia, storms and floods have intensified. Jakarta was hit by one of the worst floods last year. Crop yields have declined. The Australian bushfires, one of the worst in history, is still ongoing.
Given all that has happened and will happen in the near future, I believe this report sends out a very clear signal that we have to act fast!
DR RENARD SIEW
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