LONDON: Business chiefs head into their first global gathering of 2020 warning that a litany of environmental disasters risk defining the world over the new decade, according to a survey on Wednesday (Jan 15).
A week before its annual conclave in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum said the survey was a call to arms as wildfires rage in Australia and governments struggle to articulate collective action on climate change.
"The political landscape is polarized, sea levels are rising and climate fires are burning," WEF president Borge Brende said.
"This is the year when world leaders must work with all sectors of society to repair and reinvigorate our systems of cooperation, not just for short-term benefit but for tackling our deep-rooted risks," he said.
In recent years, climate change and its likely consequences have emerged as top concerns shadowing the Davos meeting, along with economic risks.
This time, the organisation's Global Risks Perception Survey found the top five categories of concern for the next 10 years were all environmental - topped by extreme weather events and failure of governments and businesses to forestall climate change.
For 2020 alone, economic confrontations and domestic political polarization were among the shorter-term drivers of anxiety, following a period in which US President Donald Trump has been ripping up the rulebook for international trade.
Trump will attend next week's Davos meeting, the White House has confirmed, after agreeing a deal to defuse a trade war he started with China.
Also returning to Davos will be 17-year-old Swedish eco-activist Greta Thunberg, who called in the Guardian for an end to the "madness" of investing in fossil fuels.
The WEF survey of more than 750 business decision-makers and experts who typically attend the high-powered meeting in the Swiss Alps was conducted in September and October.
The 94-page report also examined hot-button issues exercising leaders such as loss of biodiversity, regulation of technology and pressure on health systems.
"Vaccine hesitancy and drug resistance are undermining progress against pandemics, making it increasingly difficult to land the final blow against some of humanity's biggest killers," the report argued.
The survey was issued following confirmation from the World Health Organization of the first case in Thailand of a new SARS-like virus that is behind an outbreak of pneumonia in China.
For the corporate titans who attend Davos, the bottom line lies in readying their businesses for climate change even if the latest global summit on the issue ended in Madrid last month with little to show.
John Drzik, chairman of the business consultancy Marsh and McLennan Insights, noted mounting pressure on companies from investors and customers to show their climate readiness.
"Scientific advances mean that climate risks can now be modelled with greater accuracy and incorporated into risk management and business plans," he wrote.
"High-profile events, like recent wildfires in Australia and California, are adding pressure on companies to take action on climate risk at a time when they also face greater geopolitical and cyber-risk challenges."
Last week, investment giant BlackRock announced that it was divesting holdings in companies that generate more than a quarter of their sales from thermal coal production.