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Global Risks Report 2013: interconnected in the face of risk

This year's GRR, "World more at risk from markets and Mother Nature," highlights the need for a more joined-up approach in addressing the myriad issues we face.

The authors of the Global Risks Report (GRR) 2013 say that the ongoing economic crisis and attendant social tensions threaten to water down efforts to confront climate change. And they ask whether there are ways to build resilience in both the economic and environmental spheres simultaneously. 

Swiss Re CRO David Cole says, "Coping with the economic and climate change crises is unfortunately no longer seen as a continuum, but as opposing choices. The idea has gained ground that we can't have solutions to both. But we need to go beyond this thinking-in-boxes approach."

According to Cole, addressing the economic and climate change challenges requires a holistic approach, the core of smart risk management. But admittedly, these issues are complex and there is no simple solution.

Taking resilience to the national level

GRR 2013: "World more at risk from markets and Mother Nature" suggests that one effective method of building resilience would be to take a far more systematic approach to analyzing and monitoring a country's preparedness to cope with major risk.   

"Countries and local governments are the insurers of last resort," says Cole. "Society is in fact picking up a relatively significant cost as a result of not being as proactive as we might."

But resilience cannot be built in a vacuum. According to Cole, it is our interconnectedness that requires us to work together to find concrete ways to manage societal risk. "We need to look for partnerships. We need to make global agreements. We need to think not only about mitigation, we also need to think about adaptation."

Medicine, media and moderation

The GRR highlights two additional risk cases for 2013: overuse of antibiotics and "digital wildfires."

Currently, new antibiotics replace older ones as they become ineffective. But what if human inventiveness falls behind bacterial mutation?  The dilemma, the experts say in "Health and hubris," is to encourage the development of new antibiotics while at the same time ensuring that that these will not be overused.

In "Digital wildfires in a hyperconnected world," the GRR also describes the mayhem that could result when misleading information is intentionally or inadvertently distributed via the internet. The impact, according to the report, can be likened to shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre. Can social media participants cultivate the kind of "don't believe everything you hear" attitude necessary to mitigate this risk?

Building resilience for future generations

Events like Hurricane Sandy in the US, the Tohoku earthquake in Japan and the flooding in Bangkok have shown us the ripple effect of risk. They have also highlighted the importance of systematically assessing and planning for events before they happen. Cole believes understanding the situation, without becoming overwhelmed is key.

"What concerns me the most about risk is that ten years from now we’ll look back and say, ‘We knew, and we didn’t do enough. Or we didn’t do what we could have done.’"

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Published 8 January 2013


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