Climate change overtakes pandemics as greatest worry for global experts

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Global experts are now more worried about the failure to act on the climate crisis than they are about infectious diseases, as the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow and major protest movements brought the crisis into sharp focus.

Three environmental risks – climate action failure, extreme weather, and biodiversity loss – were more worrying than anything else, according to the World Economic Forum’s annual survey of global risks.

The COVID-19 pandemic knocked worries about climate action off the top of the list in early 2020. Climate change had also been the biggest concern in 2016, just after the Paris Agreement talks.

Climate change: UK public concern over environment double that of the economy, poll finds

Matt Williams from climate think tank ECIU said pandemics and the nature and climate crises are connected.

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“The more we damage the natural world, the more we are likely to come into contact with new diseases and the more extreme weather will become – and our ability to cope with it and work with nature to soak up emissions will be undercut.

In the UK, restoring forests and peatlands is necessary to shield vulnerable communities against flooding as well as absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, he said.

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‘Long-term threat’

“The climate crisis remains the biggest long-term threat facing humanity,” said Peter Giger, chief risk officer at Zurich Insurance Group.

“Failure to act on climate change could shrink global GDP by one-sixth and the commitments taken at COP26 are still not enough to achieve the 1.5C goal,” he warned.

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The survey was largely filled out by people in Europe, where 44% of the expert respondents came from. More than 84% were worried about the outlook for the world. Many feared that the pandemic had hit social cohesion and livelihood crises, as well as impacting climate action, mental health and extreme weather.

“Health and economic disruptions are compounding social cleavages,” said World Economic Forum managing director Saadia Zahidi.

“This is creating tensions at a time when collaboration within societies and among the international community will be fundamental to ensure a more even and rapid global recovery.”

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However, UK experts were much more worried about failure of cybersecurity, with climate change not even appearing in the top five concerns of UK experts polled.

Meanwhile a separate poll published today by Ipsos Mori found the British public are more worried about the coronavirus than environmental issues, which had topped polls around the COP26 talks.

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