BY Fast Company 2 MINUTE READ

Greetings from the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. The event officially commences today with an uplifting concert and awards ceremony celebrating cultural leaders doing inspiring humanitarian work.

But for me, Davos 2024 actually kicked off last week on a much more sober note, with the release of the forum’s annual Global Risk Report. Based on a survey of some 1,500 leaders in business, government, nonprofits, and academia, plus a broader executive opinion poll, its research concludes that the outlook for society and business is deteriorating.


The report, which looks at short-term and long-term risks, identifies misinformation, extreme weather, social polarization, and “cyber insecurity” as the top four global risks during the next two years. The top four risks for 2034 are all environmental: extreme weather events, critical change to earth systems, biodiversity loss, and natural resource shortages.

In an unsparing way, the authors lay out the worst-case scenarios of continued global warming. They note that many communities and countries will not be able to absorb the effects of climate change, which include water and food scarcity, the devastation of natural ecosystems, and health risks from extreme heat.


The conveners of WEF are urging optimism, saying that while the risks are great, business and government leaders still have an opportunity to mitigate them. But it’s hard not to be pessimistic. In addition to the funding and infrastructure barriers many countries face in their efforts to fight climate change, we are seeing growing challenges to corporate ESG—environmental, social, and governance—initiatives that include commitments to sustainability.

I’m interested to hear what solutions the business and government leaders here in Davos can provide about how we face down these risks—and whether there’s anything new to say. Each year the Davos crowd puts forth world-changing ideas, and yet each year environmental concerns top the risk report’s list of “most severe” long-term risks.

Many of these issues will be discussed at the Fast Company Newsroom in the Verizon Innovation Lounge in Davos. Notably, Fast Company editor-in-chief Brendan Vaughan is convening a conversation fittingly called “Davos 2034!” which asks the question: What will leaders be discussing at Davos in 10 years? If the optimists are right, perhaps we will have successfully mitigated the risks of today—and in 10 years we won’t be fending off risks but focused on proactive ways to improve society and business.

By Stephanie Mehta