World Economic Forum Releases Global Risk Report…Trouble Ahead?

Terry D. Etherton

The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently released its sixth annual report on the state of the global economy. The Global Risk Report 2011 discusses several threats to world stability, including rising economic disparity, insufficient global governance, and sufficient availability of water, food and energy.

According to the WEF Global Risk Report 2011, economic disparity and global governance failures likely will  pose a risk to global stability. Economic disparity can be viewed as the “gradient” in wealth among countries that may affect social and political stability.  Economic disparity is an important contributor to many global issues including corruption, health issues, food insecurity, terrorism, and several others.

The WEF also discussed other “risk factors” for global stability, including water, food, and energy availability in the future.  As Figure 1 (see below) conveys, world population is expected to increase 30-50% in the next twenty years, with most of the growth occurring in emerging economies. This could bring a plethora of problems, including geopolitical struggles and social and political instability, as the population struggles to attain access to resources.  As I have written about many times in Terry Etherton Blog on Biotechnology, the looming challenges in feeding the growing world population can not solved “overnight” and are dependent on an increased investment in research.  In addition to producing sufficient food, supplying sufficient water and energy will be daunting.  For example, projections are that there will be a 30% increase in demand for water by 2030.

The ever-pressing question is:  How are “we” (the developed and developing countries) going to solve these problems?  Unfortunately, in the nightly news (at least in the U.S.), this doesn’t seem to high on the priority list of policy issues that members of Congress are concerned about.

FIGURE 1.  WORLD POPULATION FROM 1960 to 2050. Source:  World Economic Forum Water Initiative, edited by D. Waughray (2010).  Water Security:  The Water-Food-Energy-Climate Nexus, based on United Nations Population Division, UN-DESA, UN Revision 2008.

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