Infographic Category Education

The Top Threats Facing Our World in 2024

By | source:Here Jan 24th, 2024

The World Economic Forum publishes an annual Global Risks Report that examines the most pressing risks facing the world over a 10 year horizon. The report surveys risk perceptions among global experts and decision-makers to highlight the most severe risks in terms of likelihood and impact. For 2024, the key global risks identified reflect a world grappling with the continued impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital fragmentation, pressure from climate change, and economic volatility. The methodology combines quantitative economic and demographic data with the survey results to build a robust risk landscape for the coming decade.

By examining these risks and their interconnections, the report provides critical insights for policymakers, business leaders, and engaged citizens working to create a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable future. While the risks may seem daunting, the report equips stakeholders with the foresight needed to proactively address them through collaboration and targeted action.

1. Extreme Weather

Extreme weather events pose a major global risk in 2024 due to the increasing frequency and severity of storms, floods, droughts, and heatwaves resulting from climate change. The impacts of extreme weather are already being felt worldwide, but are expected to worsen in the coming years. Heatwaves are lasting longer, occurring more often, and reaching higher peak temperatures. Major cities across the globe are likely to face deadly heatwaves in 2024. Severe droughts are drying up water supplies and decimating crops in agricultural communities. Powerful hurricanes and typhoons are becoming more intense, destructive, and costly. Flooding from major downpours is exceeding 100 year projections. The economic toll from weather disasters is skyrocketing into the billions each year. The human costs are devastating as well in terms of injuries, displacement, mental health impacts, and loss of life. Extreme weather disproportionately harms vulnerable communities in terms of food insecurity, homelessness, and lack of resources to prepare and recover.

Climate scientists overwhelmingly agree the rise in extreme weather stems directly from climate change caused by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. As global average temperatures continue rising, extreme weather events will increase in frequency and intensity compared to historical averages. There is uncertainty around exactly where and when specific extreme events will occur in 2024, however the overarching risk posed by climate change is clear. Extreme weather presents risks to critical infrastructure, global supply chains, businesses, governments, military operations, agriculture, biodiversity, and nearly every sector of society. Minimizing future climate change by lowering emissions can help reduce long-term weather risks. However even with emissions cuts, extreme weather impacts in 2024 remain highly likely due to past emissions and committed warming. Adapting infrastructure, alert systems, emergency preparedness, and social safety nets will be crucial to building resilience. Extreme weather poses a complex risk requiring evidence-based policies and cooperation on local to global levels in order to reduce harm to people’s lives and livelihoods.

2. AI Disinformation

The rise of AI-generated disinformation represents a major global risk for 2024 and beyond. The increasing sophistication of AI systems capable of generating fake audio, video, and text content at scale threatens to undermine truth and trust online. Unlike human-created disinformation, AI systems can churn out limitless amounts of fabricated content rapidly and inexpensively. Recent advancements in generative AI models like DALL-E and GPT-3 enable the automated generation of fake images, videos, and text that appear authentic and convincing to humans. This expanding capability raises alarming possibilities of coordinating floods of AI-generated disinformation to manipulate opinions, sway elections, and incite unrest.

The viral spread of AI disinformation poses widespread dangers to society. The inability to reliably distinguish real from fake content could erode faith in institutions and strengthen polarization. If public discourse fills with AI-forged propaganda, misinformation, and malinformation, it may become impossible to make informed decisions. The risks intensify as generative AI models grow more powerful and accessible. Mitigating harm will require a comprehensive response from governments, platforms, and civil society groups. Detecting AI-generated disinformation at scale remains extremely challenging, often relying on forensic techniques beyond the public’s reach. Novel interventions may help, like software tools to identify AI content or verified indicators of authenticity. But lasting solutions will depend on institutions and norms that value truth, verification, and transparency. If careless or malicious uses of AI disinformation go unchecked, the collective trust underpinning an open society faces grave threats.

3. Political Polarization

Political polarization refers to the increasing ideological divide between political parties and individuals around the world. This growing division is being driven by several key factors:

  • The rise of ideological media outlets and social media echo chambers that reinforce partisan viewpoints. People are increasingly segmented into “silos” where they consume news and information that aligns with their existing beliefs. This prevents exposure to alternative perspectives.

  • The decline of political moderates and the ideological purification of parties. As moderate politicians retire, they are often replaced by more ideologically extreme candidates who take more hardline stances. This pushes parties further apart.

  • Demographic shifts and economic displacements that stoke cultural and racial resentments. Changing national demographics and job losses in traditional industries have made some groups feel threatened, fueling polarization around issues of race and identity.

  • Hyperpartisanship where party affiliation becomes a core part of individual identity. Voters view supporting their party as an expression of self, intensifying an “us versus them” mentality.

  • Perceptions of existential threat if opposing parties gain power. Voters increasingly see victory by the other party as unacceptable and a threat to the country or their way of life. This makes compromise more difficult.

The costs of rampant polarization are immense. It leads to gridlock, erosion of institutions, lack of accountability, and waning trust. Overcoming the forces dividing societies will require reforms in media ecosystems, election laws, lobbying, and civic engagement. Without addressing this trend, democracies may struggle to make progress on complex policy problems.

4. Cost-of-living Crisis

The rapidly rising cost of living emerged as a major global risk for 2024, with 42% of experts surveyed ranking it in their top 5 risks. This crisis is driven by several interconnected factors:

  • High inflation rates – Central banks pumped liquidity into economies to mitigate pandemic downturns, while supply chain disruptions, the war in Ukraine, and shifting consumption patterns fueled rising prices. This resulted in inflation reaching multi-decade highs in many countries.

  • Housing affordability – Limited housing supply amid population growth and low interest rates fueled a surge in home prices and rents. This made housing unaffordable for many, especially younger adults and low-income groups.

  • Food costs – Input costs, transportation logjams, extreme weather, and the war in Ukraine led to significant food inflation. Prices rose across staples like wheat, rice, vegetable oils, and fertilizers.

  • Energy costs – Fossil fuel supply constraints combined with rebounding demand drove oil and natural gas prices much higher. This fed into broader goods/services inflation.

The cost-of-living crisis is reducing real wages and squeezing household budgets for billions globally. It risks tipping marginalized groups into poverty and fueling social unrest. Without effective policies to boost supplies, improve affordability, and support incomes, high inflation could become entrenched. This crisis underscores the need for more resilient, equitable, and sustainable economic models.

5. Cyberattacks

Cyberattacks pose a major threat in 2024 due to the continued rise in cybercrime and state-sponsored attacks. As more aspects of our lives become digitized, cyberattacks have the potential to cause widespread disruption by targeting critical infrastructure like power grids, hospitals, and transportation systems. Major data breaches are also likely to occur frequently, exposing the personal information of millions of people. These breaches undermine trust in businesses and institutions while enabling further criminal activity like identity theft and fraud. The financial costs of cyberattacks will continue to grow as well, with some estimates predicting global losses from cybercrime could reach $10 trillion by 2025. State-sponsored cyberattacks by groups linked to countries like China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are expected to be a growing menace. These attackers often have sophisticated capabilities and resources that allow them to infiltrate government and corporate networks to steal data and sabotage systems. Their goals may include espionage, disruption, or even laying the groundwork for future conflicts by probing critical infrastructure vulnerabilities.

Defense against cyberattacks requires coordinated efforts between governments, businesses, and individuals. Security measures like multi-factor authentication, encryption, firewalls, and employee education can help reduce exposure. But attacks are likely to increase in frequency, scale, and sophistication. This underscores the need for continued vigilance and investment in cyber-defense at all levels to counter this complex and rapidly evolving threat.

6. Economic Downturn

Many experts predict a high likelihood of a global recession and economic downturn in 2024. There are several factors driving this risk:

  • Tightening monetary policy: Central banks around the world, led by the US Federal Reserve, have been aggressively hiking interest rates to fight inflation. This reduces money supply and slows economic growth. The higher rates also increase borrowing costs, depressing investment and consumer spending.

  • The war in Ukraine: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to economic sanctions and countersanctions, supply chain disruptions, higher energy and food prices, and general uncertainty – all dampening global growth.

  • China’s economic troubles: China is experiencing a severe property market crisis, difficulties enforcing its zero-COVID policy, and waning export growth. Given China’s importance to global GDP, its economic struggles are a major drag.

  • High inflation: Persistently elevated inflation is forcing households to spend more on essentials like food and energy, leaving less disposable income. Businesses are also seeing input costs rise, depressing profits. This reduces overall economic activity.

  • Stock market declines: Equity markets have fallen significantly from their peaks, with volatile swings. This evaporation of wealth could further hit spending, especially big-ticket items.

  • Strong US dollar: The surging dollar makes American exports less competitive, hurts US corporate earnings abroad, strains emerging market economies with dollar-denominated debt, and reduces global growth.

Many economists believe these headwinds make a global recession in 2024 highly likely. The downturn could be quite deep and lead to lasting economic scarring. Policymakers should prepare stimulus measures to support economies through the slump. Individuals and businesses should likewise shore up their finances and brace for leaner times ahead.

This report explored the top global risks for 2024 as identified by experts in a recent survey. Each of these risks poses a major threat to stability, security, and sustainability around the world. While they differ in their details and impacts, these risks are interconnected in several concerning ways. Many of the risks could compound and exacerbate each other. For example, extreme weather can damage critical infrastructure and increase the risk of cyberattacks. Political polarization combined with AI disinformation campaigns can erode public trust. Prolonged economic downturns increase the potential for civil unrest. We must recognize how these risks interact and prepare integrated solutions.

Several overarching trends underlie multiple global risks. Climate change drives more frequent extreme weather events. Automation and AI are reshaping work, politics, and security in unpredictable ways. Weak economic growth and yawning inequality are spurring popular discontent in many nations. Appreciating these macro trends can help leaders navigate risks more effectively. With foresight, responsibility, and solidarity, we can work together to mitigate the biggest risks of this decade. But there is no time to lose. The future remains unwritten, and our actions today will determine the story it tells. By heeding the warnings, we can build a world where the most catastrophic scenarios are averted. Though the path is difficult, we must begin walking it, one step at a time.