The World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Report, released on Tuesday, said the space race and cyber threats are the newest threats to the global economy.
This year’s report showed that the space race, involving private corporations and governments, is posing a risk of overcrowding in Earth orbit due to the increasing number of objects sent into space.
Various space programs that send satellites and astronauts into space have led to an increase in debris and the potential for collisions is high. Additionally, there are “certain governance structures in place to mitigate new threats” according to the report.
The report also expressed concern over the rise in cyber attacks. The attacks are becoming more frequent and problematic as people move to online classes and work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report said that the high number of frequent online users poses increased security risks, while hackers are attacking vulnerable targets.
“We are now at the point where cyber threats are growing faster than our ability to effectively prevent and manage them,” said Carolina Clint, Marsh’s risk management leader.
The World Economic Forum usually releases reports at a summit with major world leaders and CEOs in Davos, Switzerland, but the in-person meeting had to be canceled again due to the rise in COVID-19 cases. The report is created from a survey given to nearly 1,000 experts and leaders around the world.
The pandemic and its economic and social impact still pose a “serious threat” to the world, the report said. The wide gap between rich and poor countries’ access to vaccines means their economies are recovering at unequal rates, which can widen social divisions and exacerbate geopolitical tensions.
By 2024, the global economy is projected to be 2.3 percent smaller than without the pandemic. But it masks different rates of growth between developing countries, whose economies are projected to be 5.5 percent smaller before the pandemic, and richer countries, which are expected to expand by 0.9 percent.
Cyber attacks are becoming more aggressive and widespread, the report said, as criminals use tougher tactics to pursue more vulnerable targets. Malware and ransomware attacks have boomed, while the rise of cryptocurrencies has made it easier for online criminals to hide the payments they collect.
While survey respondents cited cybersecurity threats as a short- and medium-term risk, said Clint, whose parent company, Marsh McLennan, co-authored the report with Zurich Insurance Group and SK Group.
The report’s authors were concerned that the issue was not ranked highly, suggesting it is a “blind spot” for companies and governments.
Space is the last frontier for risk.
The falling cost of launch technology has sparked a new space race between companies and governments. Last year, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ space tourism venture Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson took off, while Elon Musk’s Space X business turned a big profit launching astronauts and satellites.
Meanwhile, many countries are increasing their space programs as they pursue geopolitical and military power or scientific and commercial advantage, the report said.
But all of these programs increase the risk of friction in the classroom.
Space exploitation is one of the areas that respondents thought had the least international cooperation to address the challenges.
“The experts and leaders who responded to the survey do not believe that much is being done about the best way forward,” Saadia Zahidi, managing director of the World Economic Forum, told a virtual press briefing from Geneva.
Other areas include artificial intelligence, cyberattacks and migration and refugees, she said.
The environment remains the biggest long-term concern.
The health of the planet is a major concern over the next decade, according to survey respondents, who cited climate change, extreme weather and failure to act on biodiversity loss as the top three risks.
The report noted that different countries are taking different approaches, with some moving faster to adopt a zero-carbon model than other countries. Both approaches come with downsides. While moving too slowly can lead to more radicals who think the government is not taking immediate action, a rapid shift from carbon-intensive industries can lead to economic turmoil and put millions out of work. .
“The adoption of environmental policies in haste can also have unintended consequences for nature,” the report said. “There are many unknown risks from deploying still untapped biotechnological and geoengineering technologies.”
The World Economic Forum is still planning some virtual sessions next week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.