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World Economic Forum

Global Risks 2012

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Executive Summary

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2012 report is based on a survey of 469 experts from industry, government, academia and civil society that examines 50 global risks across five categories.

The report emphasizes the singular effect of a particular constellation of global risks rather than focusing on a single existential risk. Three distinct constellations of risks that present a very serious threat to our future prosperity and security emerged from a review of this year’s set of risks.

The three risk cases describe the links across a selection of the global risks, their interplay and how they are likely to develop over the next 10 years.

The cases are initially based on a quantitative analysis of interconnections identified in the survey and then developed further via a qualitative analysis conducted through Forum workshops worldwide and follow-up discussions with project advisors.

Case 1: Seeds of Dystopia

Dystopia, the opposite of a utopia, describes a place where life is full of hardship and devoid of hope. Analysis of linkages across various global risks reveals a constellation of fiscal, demographic and societal risks signalling a dystopian future for much of humanity. The interplay among these risks could result in a world where a large youth population contends with chronic, high levels of unemployment, while concurrently, the largest population of retirees in history becomes dependent upon already heavily indebted governments. Both young and old could face an income gap, as well as a skills gap so wide as to threaten social and political stability.

This case underscores the danger that could arise if declining economic conditions jeopardize the social contracts between states and citizens. In the absence of viable alternatives, this could precipitate a downward spiral of the global economy fuelled by protectionism, nationalism and populism.

Case 2: How Safe are our Safeguards?

As the world grows increasingly complex and interdependent, the capacity to manage the systems that underpin our prosperity and safety is diminishing. The constellation of risks arising from emerging technologies, financial interdependence, resource depletion and climate change exposes the weak and brittle nature of existing safeguards – the policies, norms, regulations or institutions which serve as a protective system. Our safeguards may no longer be fit to manage vital resources and ensure orderly markets and public safety.

The interdependence and complexity inherent in globalization require engaging a wider group of stakeholders to establish more adaptable safeguards which could improve effective and timely responses to emerging risks.

Case 3: The Dark Side of Connectivity

The impacts of crime, terrorism and war in the virtual world have yet to equal that of the physical world, but there is fear that this could change. Hyperconnectivity is a reality. With over five billion mobile phones coupled with internet connectivity and cloud-based applications, daily life is more vulnerable to cyber threats and digital disruptions. The related constellation of global risks in this case highlights that incentives are misaligned with respect to managing this global challenge. Online security is now considered a public good, implying an urgent need to encourage greater private sector engagement to reduce the vulnerability of key information technology systems.

While significant material and human resources were required in the past to exercise political or economic influence on a global scale, borders have become permeable as power shifts from the physical to the virtual world. A healthy digital space is needed to ensure stability in the world economy and balance of power.

Special Report: The Great East Japan Earthquake

This section of the report features a special review of the important lessons learned from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and the subsequent nuclear crisis at Fukushima, Japan. It focuses on the role of leadership, challenges to effective communication in this information age and resilient business models in response to crises of unforeseen magnitude.

50 Global Risks

Structured on a 10-year outlook, the survey captured the perceived impact, likelihood and interconnectedness of 50 prevalent global risks. Figures 4 and 5 respectively show the average ratings of the five risks which were assessed in this year’s survey as having the highest perceived likelihood and potential impact over the next 10 years (see Appendix 2 for a full breakdown of survey responses).

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Five Risk Categories in the report: economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological.

Centres of Gravity are the risks of greatest systemic importance, as identified by the Global Risks Survey.

Critical Connectors are risks connected to multiple Centres of Gravity, and join the five centres of gravity into one coherent system.

In this report global risks are defined as having global geographic scope, cross-industry relevance, uncertainty as to how and when they will occur, and high levels of economic and/or social impact requiring a multistakeholder response.

Weak Signals exhibit the weakest links to other risks and high uncertainty in terms of variation in survey ratings of impact and likelihood.

X Factors are emerging concerns of possible future importance and with unknown consequences. Although they are not considered among the global risks surveyed, they were submitted by experts as issues to monitor in the future.

Box 1: The Evolving Risk Landscape

The risk landscape in this 2012 report is based on a refined and expanded set of 50 risks, compared to 37 in previous years. This means that comparisons to the 2011 report are not one-to-one. However, it is clear that respondents’ concern has shifted from environmental risks in 2011 to socioeconomic risks in 2012, as shown in Box 1. Economic risks have displaced environmental risks as those considered most likely. In 2011, the risks perceived as having the highest potential impact were economic and environmental; in 2012, they are economic and societal.

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Fecha: Enero 2012

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