28 January 2019

Environmental risks dominate Davos closing and Global Risks Report 2019

The World Economic Forum 2019 has concluded, with climate change and its policy responses dominating the final day of debate. Environment-related risks also dominated the Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS) as part of the Global Risks Report 2019 for the third year in a row. The report notes that biodiversity loss in the human food chain is affecting socioeconomic development, with implications for regional security in addition well-being and productivity. Risks around urbanisation are also identified, including increased natural resource pressure and land use.

A dedicated chapter on preparing cities for sea-level rises notes 800 million people are already estimated to live in cities vulnerable to a 0.5 metre sea-level rise. The vast array of infrastructure and economic activity at risk from rising sea levels may lead to population movement within and from large cities, causing, among other spillovers, security pressure. The report encourages urgent and innovative coastal adaptation – both ‘hard’ engineering and ‘soft’ nature-based defences and population management.

Urbanisation is one theme of the Planetary Security Conference on 19th and 20th February 2019 in The Hague. A workshop on ‘Urbanisation and Climate Security’ convened by Arabella Fraser, Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham and featuring Nuha Eltinay of the Arab Urban Development Institute, will consider the drivers and links between ‘civic’ conflict and climate change. The workshop 'Fragile Cities, Resilient Futures' will then introduce conference participants to collaborative, systems-based approaches to assessing city fragility and resilience and intervening on the ground. The Planetary Security Initiative (PSI) together with The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies has previously published a policy briefing with recommendations for improvement on the current climate resilience of cities in conflict areas.

The conference workshop ‘Disaster Risk Reduction’ (DRR) will also discuss the extent to which the DRR approach has been underutilized as a potential ‘solution’ to the climate security challenge, and define a set of proposals to take to the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in May 2019.

The Davos report’s conclusions regarding the impact and likelihood of climate-related threats echo both the French and UK Defence ministries’ recent reports on strategic security threats, as the PSI reported on respectively here and here. Environmental risks dominate the highest impact and highest likelihood quadrant according to GRPS survey respondents, with extreme weather events deemed by a long way the most concerning.

The most frequently cited risk interconnection was between this and “failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation”, indicating a concern for environmental governance. Water crises, large-scale involuntary migration, man-made environmental disasters and biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse all find are all listed in this high impact, high likelihood quadrant.

The Davos report notes this takes place in a context of declining collective will and “rising geopolitical and geo-economic tensions among world powers”.