COVID-19 has only hastened this shift, as more people work and communicate remotely. That has involved greater use of platforms and devices that allow sensitive data to be shared with third parties, like cloud service providers. It has also shifted digital exchanges from office networks to residences, where there may be a significant number of connected devices with less protection against cyber intrusion.
A growing dependency on digital systems over the past two decades has drastically changed the ways many societies function. Some of the most vulnerable people are those only now gaining access to the internet.
Increased use of decentralized technologies will likely come with a lack of structured guardrails or sophisticated on-boarding structure. Already, the growth of cyber threats have easily outpaced our ability to effectively prevent and manage them. The use of malware increased by 358% in 2020, while the use of ransomware rose by 435% - and the value of cryptocurrency received by ransomware addresses jumped four-fold. ...
Regardless of the impact of the pandemic, digital inter-connectedness is only poised to increase as a new, potentially more immersive version of the internet takes shape - largely based on blockchain, and enabled by the use of cryptocurrencies.
Sophisticated tools are enabling more efficient attacks on targets of choice, rather than targets of opportunity - portending more financial and reputational damage in the future.
The increasingly sophisticated use of spyware has enabled targeted attacks on journalists and civil rights activists around the world, and attacks can now be timed for periods when cybersecurity teams are depleted or distracted by other issues - like during a natural disaster or COVID-19 outbreak.
Meanwhile, deep fake technology is enabling more polished social engineering ploys, the proliferation of more disinformation, and the wreaking of social havoc particularly at sensitive times. For governments attempting to prevent cybersecurity failures, a patchwork of enforcement mechanisms across different jurisdictions has hampered their efforts. At the same time, geopolitical rifts have hindered cross-border efforts to address cyber crime - as some governments have been unwilling or unable to regulate intrusions that originate inside their borders and impact outside of them. Some of the most vulnerable to attack are people only now getting online, or those soon to do so who also lack sufficient access to digital security; about 40% of the global population is not yet connected to the internet.
Most countries’ COVID-19 responses have alternated between success stories and cautionary tales. Two factors critical for effective management of the pandemic have been governments’ readiness to adjust response strategies as circumstances change, and their ability to maintain public trust and compliance. Effective national responses generally involved multi-pronged approaches to transmission control, reliable logistics, and increasingly granular real-time data. Chile and Finland, for example, were better able to manage surges than others with less-well-rounded approaches. Rapid, wholesale easing of constraints on social and economic activity often resulted in steep rises in case numbers, though health-system impacts and mortality were often mitigated in places with relatively high vaccination rates.
National response strategies implemented in the second year of the pandemic have left ample room to improve preparedness for future crises. As the coronavirus evolved more contagious variants in 2021, governments struggled to return to social and economic normalcy; most countries experienced several surges, and alternated between success stories and cautionary tales.
By the latter part of 2021, research showed that fully-vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus, experience severe symptoms, or die. Yet, slow vaccine rollouts in some places and vaccine hesitancy remain risks.
As many grew weary of lockdowns and rules like mask requirements during 2021, several countries experienced riots when governments sought to tighten restrictions in the face of new outbreaks. In general, official communication has had to steer a narrow course between individual freedoms and collective resilience.
National resilience strategies for future pandemics will likely have to anticipate at least some level of defiance and distrust of well-meaning restrictions. Ultimately, a balanced path that involves transparency, far-reaching regulation, and healthy levels of data sharing will be critical.
High-income countries have generally had privileged access to vaccines, and by the end of 2021 all but three Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development member states had double-vaccinated at least half of their populations.
However, low-income countries, especially in Africa, have low vaccination rates and must rely on “vaccine diplomacy” initiatives and efforts like the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) programme (which has suffered from a low level of contributions from high-income countries). Still, well-oiled disease surveillance systems and young populations in these countries may have contributed to relatively low mortality rates.
Degrees of Disorderly Climate Transition
Complete climate inaction would mean forfeiting as much as 18% of global GDP, and even a failure to achieve the widely-shared goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 would exact serious costs. However, as climate change intensifies and some economies recover more quickly than others from the impacts of COVID-19, a disorderly transition to net zero could divide societies and drive countries further apart - as some strongly advocate for decarbonization, while others stall. Meanwhile there is increasing evidence of the physical risks related to a lack of climate action, including prolonged periods of extreme heat and cold and intensifying natural catastrophes. And though pandemic-related lockdowns led to a global dip in greenhouse gas emissions, these ultimately rose in 2020 at a rate faster than the annual average over the previous decade.
Disparate efforts to address climate change could complicate a socially-inclusive transition to net zero. The commitments to de-carbonization made by countries at the COP26 climate summit in late 2021 still fall short of what is needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels - beyond which destructive impacts would proliferate. Instead, the world appears to be on track to reach 1.8°C or more in warming.
Governments need to balance the needs of populations dependent on carbon-intensive industries with national climate commitments. Some of these commitments are lofty and lack scientific credibility, however, and regulatory obligations are generally not going far or fast enough.
In some places and industries there is also an assumption that market forces will come to the rescue. Yet, in many countries there are insufficient incentives for businesses to invest in net-zero technologies, and few penalties for failing to do so. Meanwhile businesses may be unprepared for related changes in consumer behavior and investor preferences, potentially making asset prices more volatile.
Some actors are still deliberately maneuvering to slow or even scale back the green transition, and in some cases well-meaning measures - like the increased use of resources for low-carbon technologies - are having unintended negative effects.
Concerted, aggressive action now would involve a multitude of disruptions (carbon-intensive industries employ millions of workers, for example), but would also alleviate long-term environmental consequences. In contrast, a slower but more orderly transition might make the process less difficult to manage, but would result in a need to make deeper, faster changes in due course.
Crowding and Competition in Space
Few effective governance tools have emerged in recent years adapted to new realities - like the pressing need for an authority to govern satellite launches and servicing, space traffic control, and common enforcement principles. While many governments have collaborated behind the scenes, there is significant policy divergence among the 28 countries with space regulation. National space ambitions also risk the growing militarization of space. The US created a Space Force in 2019, for example, and Japan’s Space Operations Squadron and the United Kingdom’s Space Command were both created in the past two years. Gaps in space governance make arms races more likely, and new rules are unlikely in the near future.
A realm that mostly lacks effective governance tools is the focus of intense commercial and geopolitical interests.
Commercial and geopolitical interests have gained significant influence over space exploration, and the increased exploitation of Low-Earth and Medium-Earth Orbits risks congestion and potential collisions.
While about 11,000 satellites have been launched since 1957, some 70,000 more could enter orbit in the coming decades as access to space becomes less costly, more players are eyeing opportunities to launch constellations of smaller satellites, and to develop mining and tourism interests. For countries, a space programme is still widely seen as a marker of national prestige; it also brings with it scientific, commercial, and military significance.
Plans for at least five new space stations by 2030 are in the works (and the first commercial version is slated for completion in the coming decade). In addition to incumbents like Russia and the US, countries now expressing interest in developing space programmes include Argentina, Iran, and South Africa. Space is home to critical infrastructure for many civil and commercial entities, and provides everything from internet access to climate monitoring. It is also crucial for military efforts including spy satellites, and is fast filling with tempting military targets.
Efforts to track debris will need to become increasingly sophisticated to maintain reliability in a more congested realm. Meanwhile international rules for space activity require updating, to diminish the risk of potential clashes. The most comprehensive set of space agreements was concluded in 1967, and still governs much of the activity taking place there.
Higher Barriers to Migration
National-level barriers to the movement of people are increasing. That is happening amid growing disillusionment with globalization in many countries, and concerns about housing and employment opportunities. These barriers threaten to undermine the ability to gain new livelihoods and fill labor gaps, and weaken the global flow of crucial remittances.
Mounting obstacles to orderly migration could worsen humanitarian crises and increase polarization. Uneven economic growth is likely to continue contributing to the global migrant stock beyond the pandemic. Many origin countries, which may be less advanced and less vaccinated against COVID-19, face highly uncertain economic futures as growth stagnates and public finances are stretched by pandemic-related measures.
Conflict and political insecurity are also driving involuntary migration. In 2020, more than 34 million people were displaced abroad mostly due to conflict and turmoil in Afghanistan, Myanmar, South Sudan, Syria, and Venezuela - and to expanding conflict within and beyond the borders of Ethiopia. Barriers to the orderly migration of people from these countries and others could worsen humanitarian crises, and increase social polarization.
Over the past decade, the number of international migrants has increased by nearly 30%. Economic hardship, conflict, political instability, and climate change are forcing millions of people to leave home; “involuntary migration” ranked as a top long-term concern in survey results presented in the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Risks Report.
Climate change is displacing people both directly (through worsening natural disasters), and indirectly (by weakening economies most vulnerable to its impacts). More frequent and extreme weather events, like floods and fires, could displace more than 200 million people by 2050.
Greater international collaboration is necessary to ensure that voluntary, economic migrants are not exposed to exploitation, and that refugees receive the assistance they need. While economic migration often brings considerable benefits to both origin and destination countries, some project-based migration to develop infrastructure abroad has had negative impacts for local workers who have seen related employment and training opportunities reduced. Many workers in the informal economy in these countries face inordinate exposure to the pandemic’s economic fallout, because of their relatively sparse income and lack of access to official state support. Despite possibilities of Refugees making positive contributions to the economies in destination countries, millions remain crowded in camps on the fringes of society.
RISK AND RESILIENCE
The latest edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report identifies tensions that will result from this divergence, and highlights the implications for people, governments, and businesses.
A divergent economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis risks deepening social and global divisions, at a time when greater collaboration is crucial.
Resilience is a catalyst for sustainable urban development. It ensures development gains are not lost when cities face shocks and urban residents can flourish in a safe environment while addressing major challenges such as climate change and rapid urbanization.
According to survey results presented in the report, “social cohesion erosion,” “livelihood crises,” and “mental health deterioration” are the risks that have worsened the most since the pandemic began - and most respondents expect the next three years to be characterized by volatility, multiple surprises, and fractured trajectories that will separate relative winners from losers.