Recession, job losses, another pandemic and protectionism top worries: WEF study
A prolonged global recession due to COVID-19 pandemic, high unemployment, another outbreak of an infectious disease and increased protectionism are among the biggest near-term worries for companies around the world, a new study showed on Tuesday.
The study conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF) also flagged that the world is not ready for the knock-on effect of far-reaching environmental, societal and technological risks, but a "green recovery" and more resilient, cohesive, inclusive and equal societies can emerge if leaders act now.
"Economic distress and social discontent will rise over the next 18 months unless world leaders, businesses and policy-makers work together to manage the fallout of the pandemic," according to the report.
As economies restart, there is an opportunity to embed greater societal equality and sustainability into the recovery, which would unleash a new era of prosperity, said Geneva-based WEF, which describes itself as an international organisation for public-private cooperation.
The study, titled 'COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and Its Implications', has been conducted in partnership with Marsh & McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group. It taps into views of nearly 350 senior risk professionals who were asked to look at the next 18 months and rank their biggest concerns in terms of likelihood and impact for the world and for business.
The immediate economic fallout from COVID-19 dominates companies' risk perceptions and these range from a prolonged recession to the weakening fiscal position of major economies, tighter restrictions on the cross-border movement of goods and people, and the collapse of a major emerging market.
The report also calls on leaders to act now against an avalanche of future systemic shocks such as the climate crisis, geopolitical turbulence, rising inequality, strains on people's mental health, gaps in technology governance and health systems under continued pressure.
"These longer-term risks will have serious and far-reaching implications for societies, the environment and the governance of breakthrough technologies," the WEF said.
As per the study, two-thirds of respondents identified a "prolonged global recession" as a top concern for business. Besides, one-half identified bankruptcies and industry consolidation, failure of industries to recover and a disruption of supply chains as crucial worries.
With the accelerated digitisation of the economy in the midst of the pandemic, cyber attacks and data fraud are also major threats, according to one-half of the respondents, while breakdown of IT infrastructure and networks is also a top concern.
Geopolitical disruptions and tighter restrictions on the movement of people and goods are also high on the worry list.
A second report from WEF, 'Challenges and Opportunities in the Post-COVID-19 World', which was also published on Tuesday, draws on experiences and insights of thought leaders, scientists and researchers to outline emerging opportunities to build a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable world.
WEF's Managing Director Saadia Zahidi said the COVID-19 crisis has devastated lives and livelihoods while triggering an economic crisis with far-reaching implications and revealing the inadequacies of the past.
"As well as managing the immediate impact of the pandemic, leaders must work with each other and with all sectors of society to tackle emerging known risks and build resilience against the unknown. We now have a unique opportunity to use this crisis to do things differently and build back better economies that are more sustainable, resilient and inclusive," she said.