by Martina Fuchs
GENEVA, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- The COVID-19 pandemic is increasing disparities and social fragmentation and will threaten the global economy in the next 3-5 years and weaken geopolitical stability in the next 5-10 years, the World Economic Forum (WEF) said in a new report on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, environmental concerns top the list of risks in terms of likelihood and impact in the next decade.
The WEF's "Global Risks Report 2021" warned that the coronavirus pandemic threatens to scale back years of progress on reducing poverty and inequality and to further weaken social cohesion and global cooperation needed to address long-term challenges, such as environmental degradation.
Saadia Zahidi, the WEF's managing director, told Xinhua that a continued and transparent communication by governments and businesses to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with a fair and equitable distribution of vaccines, would be critical.
"That is where we saw time and again failures in international cooperation. That is what we need to improve in the second year of this pandemic crisis," she said.
"We know that if the pandemic continues in any part of the world it is something that will continue to pose a threat in other parts of the world. The distribution (of vaccines) has to be fair and equitable and has to be available to developing and developed countries alike."
Among the highest likelihood risks of the next ten years, the 97-page report listed extreme weather events, climate action failure and human-led environmental damage, as well as digital power concentration, digital inequality and cybersecurity failure.
Among the highest impact risks of the next decade, that the report listed infectious diseases at the top spot, followed by climate action failure and other environmental risks, as well as weapons of mass destruction, livelihood crises, debt crises and information technology (IT) infrastructure breakdown.
The report defined as a "global risk" an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, can cause significant negative impact for several countries or industries within the next ten years.
The authors also said that over the past 15 years, the "Global Risks Reports" have been warning the world about the dangers of pandemics and that 2020 saw the effects and long-term risks of ignoring preparations.
IMMINENT AND POTENTIAL THREATS
For the first time, the report, which draws on the WEF's latest "Global Risks Perception Survey" (GRPS), also rates risks according to when respondents perceive they will pose a critical threat to the world.
The most imminent threats -- those that are most likely in the next two years -- include employment and livelihood crises, widespread youth disillusionment, digital inequality, economic stagnation, human-made environmental damage, erosion of societal cohesion and terrorist attacks.
In the 3-5-year timeframe, respondents to the GRPS said the world would be threatened by knock-on economic and technological risks, which may take several years to materialize -- such as asset bubble bursts, IT infrastructure breakdowns, price instabilities and debt crises.
In the 5-10-year horizon, existential threats, such as weapons of mass destruction, state collapses, biodiversity loss and adverse technological advances, dominate the concerns.
Zahidi stressed that a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will be crucial going forward. Just as no one is immune to the pandemic, "no one is immune to climate change," she said.
WIDENING DIGITAL GAP
The report also highlighted that although digital transformation promises large benefits, such as the creation of almost 100 million new jobs by 2025, automation may displace some 85 million jobs.
It said that 60 percent of adults around the world still lack basic digital skills, thereby deepening existing inequalities.
This particularly affects young people, as this group faces its second global crisis in a generation and could miss out altogether on opportunities in the next decade, the report warned.
Zahidi said that while the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the fourth industrial revolution, ensuring that developing economies have digital access as well as investments in skills was a critical need.
"People need to be able to work with these technologies, not just simply have access to them. That is going to be an important factor in advanced and developing economies alike. That relates to hardware, simply having the ability to access computers. But it also relates to software capability and to actually work with these technologies."
The Geneva-based forum's report precedes its annual flagship event usually held in Davos, a Swiss ski resort and the highest-altitude town in Europe. WEF on Monday announced that its Davos Agenda event would take place virtually on Jan. 25-29 under the theme "A Crucial Year to Rebuild Trust." Enditem