2015: A Year of Action for Global Risks?

Geo-economic conflict is the number one risk facing the world right now, according to the Global Risks 2015 report.

Experts believe we face a greater threat of terrorist attacks and state crises, while water shortages and extreme weather can create more havoc and be more frequent due to intensifying climate change.

The good news is that the capacity of the human race for avoiding risks, mitigating them and strengthening resilience is now higher than ever in human history. And 2015 in particular presents a number of opportunities to address global risks. There are reasons for optimism that this year may bring significant action.

Take climate change, for instance, a trend that drives a number of risks such as water shortages or weather-related natural disasters. After many failed efforts to come to an international agreement on carbon reductions, some developments in the course of last year provide a glimmer of hope as they could provide overarching support ahead of the COP15 meeting in Paris.

For example, at the UN Climate Summit in September 2014, leading businesses and many governments expressed their support for global climate pricing and committed to an end of forest loss by 2030. The mayors of over 2000 cities pledged towards major carbon cuts in cities. Later in the year, United States and China as well as the EU committed to a significant cut in carbon emissions and the preparatory summit in Lima saw developing countries accept the need to cap emission, a major stepping-stone towards an agreement. All these developments give us real hope that Paris talks in November/December will see real progress in climate change.

If you take the threat of conflict between states, the key global risk identified this year, there may also be reason to believe that some ongoing conflicts may de-escalate in the near future. After Japanese FDI in China dropped by 40% in early 2014, later that year the two countries started a process of rapprochement that could de-escalate the situation in the South-China Sea.

What else does the Global Risks Report tell us about other risks and trends that should we be watching for the future? One potentially explosive finding is that societies appear to be increasingly under pressure from growing interdependence and the accelerating pace of change. As the reality is increasingly complex and economic pressures such as unemployment and income inequality rise, people identify themselves more strongly with familiar religious, cultural, or national values.

Then, we should not let economic risks slip of the radar. Although experts see them as relatively less important this year than other risks, this is due to the fact that environmental and geopolitical risks are taking centre stage. This could mean that less attention will be paid to economic risks, although much still needs to be done to ensure that the global economy grows in a sustainable manner.

Somewhat less surprisingly, the potential cost of cyber-attacks and data fraud and theft to companies or even industries, should incentivize action to better protect the cyber space.

The Global Risks Report is not meant to be the world's crystal ball, but to give leaders a heads up on what's coming down the tracks, help them make sense of an increasingly complex reality and give them reasons to act.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The World Economic Forum to mark the Forum's Annual Meeting 2015 (in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan. 21-24). Read all the posts in the series here.