Serious Cracks in WEF’s Global Risk Report 2022

So much for forecasting and the Global Risk Report 2022 of the World Economic Forum (WEF). While it was only published last month, the Global Risks Perception Survey on which it is based can already be redone. Well, analysing the report and looking at the ranking and elaboration of risks, it is highly questionable whether that is the right route to take. For one thing, how can a report that draws on nearly 1,000 of the ‘world’s foremost risk experts’ and ‘the views of over 12,000 country-level leaders who identified critical short-term risks to their 124 countries’ fully overlook such a critical risk that is fully playing out right now? Although the far majority of the risk experts that responded (84%) ‘were either concerned or worried about the outlook for the world’, they overwhelmingly point to societal and environmental risks to substantiate that. Without in any way diminishing the importance of these risk categories and even the recent Russian attack on the Ukraine, it is quite remarkable that ‘interstate conflict’ and ‘fracture of interstate relations’ only appear in the margins of the report, are not considered as ‘a critical threat to the world’ in the coming decade (!) and are completely absent from the executive summary. Very cautiously, the report only states that countries like Russia and Turkey are ‘showing greater capability and willingness to project power abroad’.

Underrated critical risks. While ‘geoeconomic confrontations’ rank 10th on the list of 'most severe risks on a global scale over the next ten years’ (with only 14,8% of the respondents seeing it as a critical risk in 2-5 years time), it is not specified or elaborated upon at all. ‘Cyber threats, -crime and -vulnerabilities’ do not even make the top-10 and although a full chapter is devoted to it, the role of government complicity is just mentioned incidentally and without naming any country explicitly. ‘Cybersecurity failure’ only makes it to the top 10 in the shorter term, apparently respondents assume that companies, governments and financial systems will adequately deal with it in the longer term (?). In any case, it is already a lot more than the attention the report pays to the fast-growing world of cryptocurrencies and decentralised finance, where the former is not linked to the role of governments in any way and the latter is only mentioned once. Instead, the report devotes one of its five chapters to ‘crowding and competition in space’ as ‘a new frontier of divergence’.

Methodological flaws? Based on the above analysis and drawing upon my experience in the field of foresight and strategic risk management, I sincerely wonder how this report could neglect and underrate so many crucial risks, at least one of which is already playing out within months of its publication. It definitely raises some fundamental questions about the methodology used and the way in which the report has been produced. Did a pandemic (mentioned numerous times) recency bias play too big a role? Do the consulted ‘world’s foremost risk experts’ collectively hold too narrow a view on what might happen in the future? Or, are topics deliberately being avoided and countries being 'spared' by not mentioning them? Questions such as these are also addressed to the partners with whom WEF compiled the Global Risk Report 2022, including insurance broker and risk advisor Marsh McLennan, IT-services company SK Group, and Zurich Insurance Group as well as prestigious academic institutions, National University of Singapore, the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford and Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

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