Major Global Risks in 2022

Published on 25 May 2022

“The future is already here, it is just not very evenly distributed.”

– William Gibson

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Destructive weather events have become commonplace.  Sea surface temperatures are increasing.  Glaciers and ice sheets are melting.  Sea levels are rising.  Global warming is defined as an increase in combined surface air and sea surface temperatures averaged over the globe over 30 years.  Human-induced warming due to heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHG) reached approximately 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels in 2017, and in 2021, the average global temperature was 1.1 degrees Celsius.

The first climate conference was held in Geneva in 1979, and the global climate negotiations have been ongoing ever since, with the most recent one being COP26, held in Glasgow in 2021.  As per the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries pledged to cut down GHG emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  Most countries have not made any progress and their climate plans are inadequate according to the scientists and climate activists.  The global post-covid carbon dioxide emissions have risen considerably.

Four Major Risks

The overwhelming crises currently facing humanity are the following:

  • Climate change
  • Biodiversity loss
  • Waste generation
  • Pollution

Ripple Effects

Intense heatwaves are igniting wildfires.  Freshwater reservoirs around the world are fast depleting.  Unprecedented rainfall is causing devastating floods.  With melting ice sheets, sea levels are rising.  The sandstorms fueled by soil degradation, long droughts and low rainfall, are hampering visibility.  The insect population is declining.  There is a rise in food and water insecurity.  Crops are withering in droughts and drowning in floods. As oceans become more acidic, it is impacting the marine organisms.

As global warming increases and animal habitats shift, it will force new animal encounters and virus-swapping between species.  Infectious disease outbreaks will become more prevalent as humans deforest and enter into animal territory.  As seasons shift, it misaligns the delicate web of life, throwing into chaos the pollination of flowers, growth of trees, the life cycle of insects, migration of birds and reproductive behavior of animals.  In the last two decades, flash droughts have increased in the US, Africa, China and Australia.  As drought conditions intensify, there is significant loss of moisture from soil that develops quickly with little warning.  Weather whiplash with searing heat followed by a dangerous snowstorm ruins crops.

People are being displaced as climate refugees due to unprecedented floods and wildfires destroying their homes and livelihoods, droughts, resource scarcity, disease outbreaks and rising sea levels impacting coastal areas.

Global Risks Report 2022

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), Global Risks Report 2022, the following are the problems threatening the world:


  • Social cohesion erosion
  • Livelihood crises
  • Mental health deterioration
  • Infectious diseases
  • Backlash against science
  • Youth disillusionment
  • Social security collapse
  • Involuntary migration
  • Public infrastructure failure
  • Pollution harms to health


  • Climate action failure
  • Extreme weather
  • Biodiversity loss
  • Human environmental damage
  • Natural resource crises
  • Geophysical disasters


  • Debt crises
  • Prolonged stagnation
  • Asset bubble burst
  • Industry collapse
  • Price instability
  • Commodity shocks
  • Illicit economic activity


  • Cybersecurity failures
  • Digital inequality
  • Adverse tech advances
  • Tech governance failure
  • Digital power concentration
  • IT infrastructure breakdown


  • Geo-economic confrontations
  • Interstate relations fracture
  • Geopolitical resource contestation
  • Interstate conflict
  • State collapse
  • Multilateralism collapse
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Weapons of mass destruction

Timeline of Global Risks

Within 0 to 2 years, the impending problems include the following:

  • Extreme weather
  • Livelihood crises
  • Climate action failure
  • Social cohesion erosion
  • Infectious diseases
  • Mental health deterioration
  • Cybersecurity failure
  • Debt crises
  • Digital inequality
  • Asset bubble burst

State of the Climate 2021 

The report indicates that human activity is causing harm on a planetary scale to land, ocean and atmosphere.  The past seven years have been the warmest according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).  Global mean temperature, greenhouse gases, ocean heat and ocean acidification are all on the rise.  Water stress is already a reality for nearly 2 billion people.  Extreme weather events cost the world 100 billion in 2021.  Regulations are needed by governments to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Anil Agarwal Dialogue 2022

According to the Anil Agarwal Dialogue 2022, Centre for Science and Environment, the biggest crisis currently faced by humanity is the earth’s worsening climate catastrophe.  Apart from carbon emission and surface temperature rise, there are many other vital sign indicators of the cause and effect of climate breakdown namely, food security, poverty alleviation, clean energy, health, education, gender equality and the creation of sustainable cities.  The population growth must end, fossil fuels must be left in the ground, forest destruction should be halted, and meat-eating should be slashed.  Increasing air passenger numbers, world GDP growth and climate crisis are closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle.  There should be a radical shift in the way energy is generated and consumed.

IPCC Report 2022

A new report by IPCC on climate impacts and adaptations, released by the U.N. climate panel in March 2022, details the worsening conditions for the majority of life on Earth.  This is due to the destruction of habitats, a significant decline in biodiversity and the risk to global food supplies.  Within 20 years, the temperature of the planet will increase from the current 1.1 degrees Celsius to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  If it further increases to 2 degrees Celsius, freshwater will only be from snowmelt and glaciers, leading to a lack of important food crops, more species loss and extinction.  The report insists on the need to conserve 30 to 50 percent of the Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean areas.  Currently, less than 15 percent of the world’s land, 21 percent of its freshwater and just 8 percent of oceans are under some form of protection. Land use and land-use change are critical for all mitigation pathways that seek to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

World Food Prize 2022

The World Food prize 2022 was awarded to NASA climate research scientist, Cynthia Rosenzweig, an agronomist and climatologist, in recognition of her innovative modeling of the impact of climate change on food production.  The greenhouse gases (GHS) are released from food production.  The clearing of forests for farmland releases carbon and carbon dioxide.  There is oxidization of carbon through ploughing of fields.  The use of fertilizer releases atmospheric nitrous oxide, farm equipment emits fossil fuels and cattle release methane.  She states that there is a need to improve food and agricultural systems to lessen the effects of climate change.  The problem of climate change cannot be solved unless the issues of the greenhouse gas emissions from the food system are not addressed.  Food security for all can only be provided if resilient systems are developed.  More than 160 million people worldwide experienced food insecurity in 2021, a 19-percent increase over the year before.  One of the root causes is a decline in food production due to global warming.  The war between Russia and Ukraine is another reason for the looming food scarcity, malnutrition, mass hunger and famine.

Profiting From Pain, Oxfam 2022

Post-covid, prices of flour, cooking oil, fuel and electricity have risen incredibly and people everywhere are forced to cut back on fuel, heating their homes, food, medical care, and education.  More than 20 million people have died due to the COVID-19 pandemic and every dimension of inequality has skyrocketed.  Nearly 263 million people have been pushed into extreme poverty in 2022.  All the while, billionaires and corporations in the food, energy, pharmaceutical and technology sectors are reaping dizzying financial rewards.  The Oxfam report states that in the same time it took to create a new billionaire on an average during the pandemic, one million people could be pushed into extreme poverty this year.  Extreme wealth is a direct consequence of public policy and public money.  Governments across the world must increase the taxation of wealth and corporate profits and divert the money to reduce racial, education, health and gender inequalities.

The Warning

Experts categorically state that all the people of the world will face untold suffering due to the climate crisis if not mitigated in time.  A stark warning has been issued by 11,000 scientists from 153 countries.  Nearly 60 years ago, Rachel Carson described the looming ecological threats in her book Silent Spring in 1962, as did Al Gore in Inconvenient Truth in 2006.

The human population, currently at 7.8 billion, is increasing by 80 million people per year, more than 200,000 per day.  More than half of the global population by 2050 is projected to live in urban areas, which will tremendously strain the infrastructure.

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More than one-fifth of humanity or 1.7 billion people in 107 developing countries in the world are facing at least one of the risks of rising food prices, increasing energy prices and tougher financial conditions.  There can be no environmental justice and equity if the people most affected by environmental protection measures are those who are not responsible for the problem.  Since not all humans are equally responsible for the man-made climate catastrophe, the Global South blames the wealthy industrialized nations of the Global North for blatant conspicuous consumption.  Climate change, pollution of water and air and poaching are not restricted to national borders.

Plastic pollutants and electronic wastes generated in some countries are shipped and dumped elsewhere.  Meat production accounts for nearly 60 percent of all greenhouse gases compared to plant-based foods.  Hydraulic fracking wells to obtain liquified natural gas (LNG) release the highest amount of methane.  The heating impacts of methane are much more than that of carbon dioxide.  Mining for diamond, cobalt, gold, tin, copper, silver, lithium, coltan and nickel contaminates groundwater, air and soil.  On average, 16 kg of resources, such as metal, fossil energy and minerals extracted from the earth, are used by every person every day.  In the western world, this number increases to 57 kg.

Chemical pollution has crossed planetary boundary.  In what is termed the boldest and largest ever ban, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is planning to restrict nearly 12,000 harmful chemicals linked to cancer, hormonal disruption, obesity, diabetes and reproductive disorders.  Most of these chemicals are found in childcare products, food additives, ultra-processed food, fast fashion, cosmetics, perfumes, paints, cleaning products, adhesives, lubricants, furniture, pesticides and what is termed as forever chemicals.

In 2021, the climate scientist, Katharine Hayhoe in her book Saving Us called for hope and healing in a divided world with dialogue and collective action.  Author Amitav Ghosh in Living Mountain, released in 2022, explains that when earth’s resources are over-extracted, it disrupts the harmony of sacred landscapes where indigenous people live.  Its repercussion will be on a much wider scale experienced by everyone.  The coronavirus pandemic is continuing to be a lesson to humanity on how important international cooperation and collaboration are and that even a tiny virus can bring powerful economies to a grinding halt.

As the saying goes, “Lessons in life will be repeated until they are learned.”

Further Reading


The war in Ukraine is fuelling a global food crisis (30 May 2022)

Carbon dioxide now more than 50% higher than pre-industrial levels (3 June 2022)

Climate change is turning more of Central Asia into desert (16 June 2022)

Greenhouse Emissions Rise to Record, Erasing Drop During Pandemic (30 June 2022)

Australia’s epic wildfires expanded ozone hole and cranked up global heat (1 September 2022)

Watching the world burn (5 September 2022)

Last Updated on 19 September 2022

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