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Climate crisis is biggest threat to the planet, warn global elite

CENTRAL COAST, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 10: Rural Fire Service (RFS) firefighters fight a flare up on a containment line at the Three Mile Fire in the suburb of Kulnura on December 10, 2019 on the Central Coast, Australia. More than 80 bushfires are burning across New South Wales, and thousands of firefighters and aircraft on alert as temperatures are expected to soar above 40c. (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images)
Firefighters fight a flare up on a containment line at the Three Mile Fire in the suburb of Kulnura on 10 December, 2019 on the Central Coast, Australia. Photo: Sam Mooy/Getty Images

The climate crisis is the biggest threat to global stability, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has warned.

WEF on Wednesday published its annual global risk report, highlighting what its members see as the biggest threats to economic and political stability. For the first time in the report’s history, the top five longterm risks were all linked to the environment.

“The planet is heating, the ice is melting, and we see that the library of species are on fire,” Borge Brende, president of WEF, said at a press conference in London to launch the report. “It’s really, really serious.”

The biggest risk over the next ten years is extreme weather events, which WEF warned could damage property and threaten human life. The predication comes as unprecedented wild fires, caused by hot weather, ravage Australia.

Other top risks include: a failure of climate change mitigation; human-made environmental disaster such as oil spills; the irreversible loss of biodiversity; and an increasing frequency of natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.

“The last 5 years have been the hottest ever on our planet and we are seeing that climate change and environmental risks long-term are increasing in this survey,” Brende said. “The only way to really mitigate the risk is to come together.”

READ MORE: BlackRock vows to address climate change: 'Climate risk is investment risk'

Worryingly, WEF’s survey of 750 members found most expect political polarisation to rise in 2020, meaning coordinated international action to address the climate crisis could be difficult.

Brende said the world was facing “global geopolitical and economic turmoil and fracturing at the top”.

“We are faced with a synchronised slowdown with the global economy and we are faced with the fact that the ammunition we have to fight a global financial crisis is limited.”

However, he urged world leaders to put differences aside and come up with a plan for the environment.

“The cost of inaction today far exceeds the cost of action,” he told journalists.

WEF released the global risk report ahead of its annual meeting of members in Switzerland next week. The event, more commonly known as Davos, attracts top politicians and business leaders from around the world. US President Donald Trump, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyden, and UK Chancellor Sajid Javid are all expected to attend, alongside the likes of Bill Gates, Goldman Sachs CEO David Soloman, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg attends the High-Level event on Climate Emergency during the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid, Spain December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg. Photo: Susana Vera/Reuters

One of this year’s most high-profile guests is Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who is returning for the second year in a row. TIME’s Person of the year 2019 will be use the conference to pressure global elites to take rapid action to address climate change.

“We demand that at this year’s forum, participants from all companies, banks, institutions and governments immediately halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction, immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies and immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels,” Thunberg wrote in an article published by the Guardian.

Senior private sector figures are also raising the alarm on climate change ahead of Davos.

BlackRock, the world’s biggest investment company, this week vowed to tackle climate change and put sustainability at the heart of his company. Chairman and founder Larry Fink said in a letter to chief executives he would vote against management teams who fail to address environmental issues.

“21 of the planet's hottest years on record have been seen over the last 23 years,” Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid wrote in a discussion paper last week, published to coincide with Davos.

“Many scientists believe that we’ve passed a tipping point in terms of permanent environmental damage. It also seems that a tipping point has recently been reached in the public awareness of the impact humans are having on the environment, and action is increasingly being sought.”

Reid warned that the action needed to combat climate change “may shock citizens and be difficult to administer in democracies”.

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