Visualized: A Global Risk Assessment of 2022 and Beyond
Since the start of the global pandemic, we’ve been navigating through tumultuous waters, and this year is expected to be as unpredictable as ever.
In the latest annual edition of the Global Risks Report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), it was found that a majority of global leaders feel worried or concerned about the outlook of the world, and only 3.7% feel optimistic.
Ever year, the report identifies the top risks facing the world, as identified by nearly 1,000 surveyed experts and leaders across various disciplines, organizations, and geographies.
What global risks are leaders and experts most concerned about, and which ones are posing imminent threats? Let’s dive into the key findings from the report.
Methodology for WEF’s Global Risk Assessment
In the survey, respondents were asked to compare 37 different risks, which were broken down into five categories: economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal, and technological.
To get a sense of which risks were seen as more urgent than others, respondents were asked to identify when they believed these threats would become a serious problem to the world, based on the following timeframes:
- Short-term threats: 0-2 years
- Medium-term threats: 2-5 years
- Long-term threats: 5-10 years
By categorizing global risks into these time horizons, it helps provide a better idea of the problems that decision makers and governments may have to deal with in the near future, and how these risks may interrelate with one another.
When it comes to short-term threats, respondents identified societal risks such as “the erosion of social cohesion” and “livelihood crises” as the most immediate risks to the world.
|Timeframe||Category||Threat||% of Respondents|
|0-2 years||🟢 Environmental||Extreme weather||31.1%|
|0-2 years||🔴 Societal||Livelihood crises||30.4%|
|0-2 years||🟢 Environmental||Climate action failure||27.5%|
|0-2 years||🔴 Societal||Social cohesion erosion||27.5%|
|0-2 years||🔴 Societal||Infectious diseases||26.4%|
|0-2 years||🔴 Societal||Mental health deterioration||26.1%|
|0-2 years||🟣 Technological||Cybersecurity failure||19.5%|
|0-2 years||🔵 Economic||Debt crises||19.3%|
|0-2 years||🟣 Technological||Digital inequality||18.2%|
|0-2 years||🔵 Economic||Asset bubble burst||14.2%|
These societal risks have worsened since the start of COVID-19. And as emerging variants threaten our journey towards normalcy, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc worldwide, with no immediate signs of slowing down.
According to respondents, one problem triggered by the pandemic is rising inequality, both worldwide and within countries.
Many developed economies managed to adapt as office workers pivoted to remote and hybrid work, though many industries, such as hospitality, still face significant headwinds. Easy access to vaccines has helped these countries mitigate the worst effects of outbreaks.
Regions with low access to vaccines have not been so fortunate, and the economic divide could become more apparent as the pandemic stretches on.
A majority of respondents believe we’ll continue to struggle with pandemic-related issues for the next three years. Because of this, the medium-term risks identified by respondents are fairly similar to the short-term risks.
|Timeframe||Category||Threat||% of Respondents|
|2-5 years||🟢 Environmental||Climate action failure||35.7%|
|2-5 years||🟢 Environmental||Extreme weather||34.6%|
|2-5 years||🔴 Societal||Social cohesion erosion||23.0%|
|2-5 years||🔴 Societal||Livelihood crises||20.1%|
|2-5 years||🔵 Economic||Debt crises||19.0%|
|2-5 years||🟢 Environmental||Human environmental damage||16.4%|
|2-5 years||🟡 Geopolitical||Geoeconomic confrontations||14.8%|
|2-5 years||🟣 Technological||Cybersecurity failure||14.6%|
|2-5 years||🟢 Environmental||Biodiversity loss||13.5%|
|2-5 years||🔵 Economic||Asset bubble burst||12.7%|
The pressing issues caused by COVID-19 mean that many key governments and decision-makers are struggling to prioritize long-term planning, and no longer have the capacity to help out with global issues. For example, the UK government postponed its foreign aid target until at least 2024. If countries continue to prioritize themselves in an effort to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, the inequality gap could widen even further.
Respondents also worry about rising debt levels triggering a crisis. The debt-to-GDP ratio globally spiked by 13 percentage points in 2020, a figure that will almost certainly continue to rise in the near future.
Respondents identified climate change as the biggest threat to humanity in the next decade.
|Timeframe||Category||Threat||% of Respondents|
|5-10 years||🟢 Environmental||Climate action failure||42.1%|
|5-10 years||🟢 Environmental||Extreme weather||32.4%|
|5-10 years||🟢 Environmental||Biodiversity loss||27.0%|
|5-10 years||🟢 Environmental||Natural resource crises||23.0%|
|5-10 years||🟢 Environmental||Human environmental damage||21.7%|
|5-10 years||🔴 Societal||Social cohesion erosion||19.1%|
|5-10 years||🔴 Societal||Involuntary migration||15.0%|
|5-10 years||🟣 Technological||Adverse tech advances||14.9%|
|5-10 years||🟡 Geopolitical||Geoeconomic confrontations||14.1%|
|5-10 years||🟡 Geopolitical||Geopolitical resource contestation||13.5%|
Climate inaction—essentially business as usual—could lead to a global GDP loss between 4% and 18%, with varying impacts across different regions.
Experts also pointed out that current decarbonization commitments made at COP26 last year still aren’t enough to slow warming to the 1.5°C goal set in the Paris Climate Agreement, so more action is needed to mitigate environmental risk.
That said, efforts to curb climate change and solve long-term issues will likely have negative short-term impacts on the global economy and society. So risk mitigation efforts need to be in place as we work to reach net-zero and ultimately slow down climate change.
Risk Mitigation Efforts
People’s thoughts on risk mitigation were gauged in the WEF survey. Respondents were asked to identify which risks our world is most equipped to handle, and which ones they believe we’re less prepared for.
“Trade facilitation,” “international crime,” and “weapons of mass destruction” were risks that respondents felt we’ve effectively prepared for. On the flip side, “artificial intelligence” and “cross-border cyberattacks and misinformation” are areas where most respondents think we’re most unprotected against.
As society becomes increasingly reliant on digital infrastructure, experts predict we will see an uptick in cyber attacks and cybercrime. New AI-enabled technologies that offer ransomware-as-a-service allow anyone to engage in cybercrime—even those without the technical knowledge needed to build malware.
How Do We Move Forward?
Based on the findings from this year’s survey, WEF identified five lessons that governments, businesses, and decision-makers should utilize in order to build resilience and prepare for future challenges:
- Build a holistic mitigation framework: Rather than focusing on specific risks, it’s helpful to identify the big-picture worst-case scenario and work back from there. Build holistic systems that protect against adverse outcomes.
- Consider the entire ecosystem: Examine third-party services and external assets, and analyze the broader ecosystem in which you operate.
- Embrace diversity in resilience strategies: Not all strategies will work across the board. Complex problems will require nuanced efforts. Adaptability is key.
- Connect resilience efforts with other goals: Many resilience efforts could benefit multiple aspects of society. For instance, efficient supply chains could strengthen communities and contribute to environmental goals.
- Think of resilience as a journey, not a destination: Remaining agile and vigilant is vital when building out resilience programs, as these efforts are new and require reflection in order to improve.
The next few years will be riddled with complex challenges, and our best chance at mitigating these global risks is through increased collaboration and consistent reassessment.
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News Explainer: The Economic Crisis in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is currently in an economic crisis with over $50 billion in debt and consumer inflation at 39%. So how did they get here?
Explained: the Economic Crisis in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is currently in an economic and political crisis of mass proportions, recently culminating in a default on its debt payments. The country is also nearly at empty on their foreign currency reserves, decreasing the ability to purchase imports and driving up domestic prices for goods.
There are several reasons for this crisis and the economic turmoil has sparked mass protests and violence across the country. This visual breaks down some of the elements that led to Sri Lanka’s current situation.
A Timeline of Events
The ongoing problems in Sri Lanka have bubbled up after years of economic mismanagement. Here’s a brief timeline looking at just some of the recent factors.
In 2009, a decades-long civil war in the country ended and the government’s focus turned inward towards domestic production. However, a stress on local production and sales, instead of exports, increased the reliance on foreign goods.
Unprompted cuts were introduced on income tax in 2019, leading to significant losses in government revenue, draining an already cash-strapped country.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world causing border closures globally and stifling one of Sri Lanka’s most lucrative industries. Prior to the pandemic, in 2018, tourism contributed nearly 5% of the country’s GDP and generated over 388,000 jobs. In 2020, tourism’s share of GDP had dropped to 0.8%, with over 40,000 jobs lost to that point.
Recently, the Sri Lankan government introduced a ban on foreign-made chemical fertilizers. The ban was meant to counter the depletion of the country’s foreign currency reserves.
However, with only local, organic fertilizers available to farmers, a massive crop failure occurred and Sri Lankans were subsequently forced to rely even more heavily on imports, further depleting reserves.
In early April this year, massive protests calling for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation, sparked in Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo.
In May, pro-government supporters brutally attacked protesters. Subsequently, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, brother of President Rajapaksa, stepped down and was replaced with former PM, Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Recently, the government approved a four-day work week to allow citizens an extra day to grow food, as prices continue to shoot up. Food inflation increased over 57% in May.
Additionally, the increasing prices on grain caused by the war in Ukraine and rising fuel prices globally have played into an already dire situation in Sri Lanka.
The Key Information
“Our economy has completely collapsed.”
Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to Parliament last week.
One of the main causes of the economic crisis in Sri Lanka is the reliance on imports and the amount spent on them. Let’s take a look at the numbers:
- 2021 total imports = $20.6 billion USD
- 2022 total imports (to March) = $5.7 billion USD
In contrast, the most recent reported foreign currency reserve levels in the country were at an abysmal $50 million, having plummeted an astounding 99%, from $7.6 billion in 2019.
Some of the top imports in 2021, according to the country’s central bank were:
- Refined petroleum = $2.8 billion
- Textiles = $3.1 billion
- Chemical products = $1.1 billion
- Food & beverage = $1.7 billion
Of course, without the cash to purchase these goods from abroad, Sri Lankans face an increasingly drastic situation.
Additionally, the debt Sri Lanka has incurred is huge, further hampering their ability to boost their reserves. Recently, they defaulted on a $78 million loan from international creditors, and in total, they’ve borrowed $50.7 billion.
The largest source of their debt is by far due to market borrowings, followed closely by loans taken from the Asian Development Bank, China, and Japan, among others.
What it Means
Sri Lanka is home to more than 22 million people who are rapidly losing the ability to purchase everyday goods. Consumer inflation reached 39% at the end of May.
Due to power outages meant to save energy and fuel, schools are currently shuttered and children have nowhere to go during the day. Protesters calling for the president’s resignation have been camped in the capital for months, facing tear gas from police and backlash from president Rajapaksa’s supporters, but many have also responded violently to pushback.
India and China have agreed to send help to the country and the the International Monetary Fund recently arrived in the country to discuss a bailout. Additionally, the government has sent ministers to Russia to discuss a deal for discounted oil imports.
A Foreshadowing for Low Income Countries
Governments need foreign currency in order to purchase goods from abroad. Without the ability to purchase or borrow foreign currency, the Sri Lankan government cannot buy desperately needed imports, including food staples and fuel, causing domestic prices to rise.
Furthermore, defaults on loan payments discourage foreign direct investment and devalue the national currency, making future borrowing more difficult.
What’s happening in Sri Lanka may be an ominous preview of what’s to come in other low and middle-income countries, as the risk of debt distress continues to rise globally.
The Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) was implemented by G20 countries, suspending nearly $13 billion in debt from the start of the pandemic until late 2021.
Some DSSI and LIC countries facing a high risk of debt distress include Zambia, Ethiopia, and Tajikistan, to name a few.
Going forward, Sri Lanka’s next steps in managing this situation will either serve as a useful example for other countries at risk or a warning worth heeding.
Note: The debt breakdown in the above visual represents total outstanding external debt owed to foreign creditors rather total debt.
Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country
Inflation rates are reaching multi-decade highs in some countries. How aggressive have central banks been with interest rate hikes?
Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country
Imagine today’s high inflation like a car speeding down a hill. In order to slow it down, you need to hit the brakes. In this case, the “brakes” are interest rate hikes intended to slow spending. However, some central banks are hitting the brakes faster than others.
This graphic uses data from central banks and government websites to show how policy interest rates and inflation rates have changed since the start of the year. It was inspired by a chart created by Macrobond.
How Do Interest Rate Hikes Combat Inflation?
To understand how interest rates influence inflation, we need to understand how inflation works. Inflation is the result of too much money chasing too few goods. Over the last several months, this has occurred amid a surge in demand and supply chain disruptions worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In an effort to combat inflation, central banks will raise their policy rate. This is the rate they charge commercial banks for loans or pay commercial banks for deposits. Commercial banks pass on a portion of these higher rates to their customers, which reduces the purchasing power of businesses and consumers. For example, it becomes more expensive to borrow money for a house or car.
Ultimately, interest rate hikes act to slow spending and encourage saving. This motivates companies to increase prices at a slower rate, or lower prices, to stimulate demand.
Rising Interest Rates and Inflation
With inflation rates hitting multi-decade highs in some countries, many central banks have announced interest rate hikes. Below, we show how the inflation rate and policy interest rate have changed for select countries and regions since January 2022. The jurisdictions are ordered from highest to lowest current inflation rate.
|Jurisdiction||Jan 2022 Inflation||May 2022 Inflation||Jan 2022 Policy Rate||Jun 2022 Policy Rate|
The Euro area has 3 policy rates; the data above represents the main refinancing operations rate. Inflation data is as of May 2022 except for New Zealand and Australia, where the latest quarterly data is as of March 2022.
The U.S. Federal Reserve has been the most aggressive with its interest rate hikes. It has raised its policy rate by 1.5% since January, with half of that increase occurring at the June 2022 meeting. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said the committee would like to “do a little more front-end loading” to bring policy rates to normal levels. The action comes as the U.S. faces its highest inflation rate in 40 years.
On the other hand, the European Union is experiencing inflation of 8.1% but has not yet raised its policy rate. The European Central Bank has, however, provided clear forward guidance. It intends to raise rates by 0.25% in July, by a possibly larger increment in September, and with gradual but sustained increases thereafter. Clear forward guidance is intended to help people make spending and investment decisions, and avoid surprises that could disrupt markets.
Pacing Interest Rate Hikes
Raising interest rates is a fine balancing act. If central banks raise rates too quickly, it’s like slamming the brakes on that car speeding downhill: the economy could come to a standstill. This occurred in the U.S. in the 1980’s when the Federal Reserve, led by Chair Paul Volcker, raised the policy rate to 20%. The economy went into a recession, though the aggressive monetary policy did eventually tame double digit inflation.
However, if rates are raised too slowly, inflation could gather enough momentum that it becomes difficult to stop. The longer high price increases linger, the more future inflation expectations build. This can result in people buying more in anticipation of prices rising further, perpetuating high demand.
“There’s always a risk of going too far or not going far enough, and it’s going to be a very difficult judgment to make.” — Jerome Powell, U.S. Federal Reserve Chair
It’s worth noting that while central banks can influence demand through policy rates, this is only one side of the equation. Inflation is also being caused by supply chain issues, a problem that is more or less outside of the control of central banks.
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