Colonel (GS) Laurent Currit, Head of Defence and Diplomacy at the GCSP interviews Dr Jean-Marc Rickli, Head of Global and Emerging Risks at the GCSP as he provides a “Perspective on Global and Emerging Risk.”
Colonel (GS) Laurent Currit: Hello again, we have the pleasure today to welcome Dr Jean-Marc Rickli from the GCSP in Geneva, he kindly accepted to make some comments about the Global Risk Report and share some of his experience with us. Good morning. Jean-Marc, you are the global risk and resilience specialist of the GCSP. And you've been involved in reviewing the WEF Global Risk Report for many years. What were the main highlights of report during all these years?
Dr Jean-Marc Rickli: So what you have to understand is that the Global Risk Report from the World Economic Forum is not so much a report about the risks that are about to come but the perception of the risk by decision makers of the previous year. So it's not so much a tool to guide you for your thinking about risk, but much more fantastic tool to understand how decision makers perceived risk over the years and what we've seen is that since early 2010, the risk related to Environment and Climate Change has really topped the agenda of decision makers.
Colonel (GS) Laurent Currit: Jean-Marc, the WEF has been publishing the Global Risk Report every year since 2005 and it shows the mutual effects of global risks. What is the definition of global risk?
Dr Jean-Marc Rickli: We have to differentiate risk and threats. During the Cold War, we used to talk a lot about threats, because we were in a specific bipolar context where basically a threat is capabilities and intentions and the intention of both parties were quite clear. After the Cold War, risk has featured prominently in security policy analysis, because intention was much more difficult to identify. But also, the scope of risk of potential things that could affect us has been magnified by globalisation and development in technology. So, risk is about likelihood that something bad will happen and its impact, the likelier and the more impactful, the greater the risk. When we talk about global risk we refer to risk that is able to affect at least 10% of the global population. Above that we talk about existential risk and existential risk are risks that threaten the existence of humanity, or that threatened to permanently and drastically curtail the potential of humanity.
Colonel (GS) Laurent Currit: Now, what are the main risks taken into account in the new 2021 report and their relative importance?
Dr Jean-Marc Rickli: So here's that is very interesting, you know, because if you look at the Report, the top global risk by likelihood are first extreme weather, climate action failure, human environmental damages and infectious disease featured in fourth position, then if you look at top global risk by impact, then you have infectious disease, climate action failure, weapons of mass destruction, and biodiversity loss. What is very interesting here is that, for the first time, infectious disease is entering the ranking of decision makers perception about risk. And here, obviously, you relate that, correlate that, with what happened last year, the COVID-19 crisis, but again, what is interesting here is to see also that environmental risk feature prominently, because climate change issues have not disappeared with the COVID-19 crisis. And also interesting is that weapons of mass destruction are still features here in the third place in terms of impact. And obviously, this has to do with what happened in the Middle East, the harsh policy of the Trump Administration against Iran and Iran's retaliation or trying to influence the Americans into reconsidering joining the JCPOA and so, on the whole, not very surprising, as I mentioned, because that reflects the perception of decision maker, but there are constant environmental risk, new things, new additions, infectious diseases, and also worth mentioning is that environmental social risk, are featuring in a much higher position than economic risk.
Colonel (GS) Laurent Currit: The WEF report constitutes good information analysis on global risk, but there are many other risk reports or web based information that exists, what are those you would recommend at the global level but also at national level?
Dr Jean-Marc Rickli: Well, so, if you look at the risk market, you find everything you know, you have private companies like Eurasia Group, McKinsey that are drafting yearly report us report on specific topics, you have organisations like the WEF that provides global risk, you have professional organisations, like the Geneva Association for the Insurance Industry, or ISACA, which is for governance, the Institute of Strategic Risk Management, for more business risk, then you have those on technology, the EPFL International Risk Governance Center. And obviously, above that, you also have national risk assessment in terms of security or national security report. And, and then also international organisations, the UN provides lots of resources. So, what is very, the most important thing, when you look at risk is really defining what you're interested in. Because depending where you sit, you will have a different perspective about what is going on, and also your interest will be different. So, for me, I'm very interested in the evolution of geopolitics and geopolitical risk as well as technology, I have to say that I look at this report. But I that's not my primary source of, of information, my main source of information is Twitter. Because I have selected a few accounts that are really worth following. And basically on a daily basis, I receive updates about tweets. And nowadays, with social media, you can have a lot of information, even prior they are being published by newspaper or in report. And therefore, I strongly encourage you to set up a social media account on Twitter, or other social media, because there are lots of bad things with social media website. But they're also good in the sense that they algorithm will actually understand your preferences, and they will feed you with information that you're interested in. So if you keep your social media account professional, just looking at your interest in terms of professional interest, then they will feed you information, and you will gain a lot of time. So basically, I'm using that. And on top of that, I'm also following the news to build up a mental structure about you know, what happened in the world. So, when anything happens in the world, I could actually put these different events into my mental box, but that requires some training. And it takes years to build up if you want the capacity to have the structure the geopolitical structure in place in your head.
Colonel (GS) Laurent Currit: Back to the report. Could you elaborate a little bit on the trends mentioned in the report and the possible short to midterm evolution?
Dr Jean-Marc Rickli: Yes, so as I mentioned, the 2021 report is heavily influenced by the pandemic. And it's no surprise that the short term risks that are highlighted by the report are direct consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and they are mostly economic and societal in the sense of the risk of employment losses, the risk of widespread youth disillusionment, because the youth has been hardly hit by this crisis, they are also issues of digital inequality, because over the last year, most of the world has moved into a digital mode, but access to digital capabilities are not equal. And therefore, this crisis has worsened if you want the inequalities between countries but also within countries and the different layers of the population. And here also, because it has not disappeared, the issue of environmental damages is still there. Then, in a midterm horizon on three to five years, the economics risks are much more important. And this is logical because basically, if you create unemployment, if youth is disillusion that will create economic situation where it's more likely to be quite bad. And so here debt crisis feature predominantly, asset bubbles, price instability, inflation, are considered as potential risk. But what is also interesting is that what we've seen in terms of the COVID-19 diplomacy where some states have tried to push their own agenda has if you want magnified the emerging geopolitical tensions and the realignment of global geopolitics, where the unipolar moment of the United States is vanning. And you have the emergence now of a contestant, which is China. But at the same time, you have also because the United States was withdrawing from international affairs, you have also some regional powers that have taken over uncertain part of the world. Think about Turkey, think about Saudi Arabia, for instance. And so here what we are seeing emerging, some would say it's a new bipolar system, I would tend to disagree with that what we're seeing are some people a multipolar system, I personally would characterise this as an apolar system, meaning that no states have the ability to prevail across all dimensions of power. And if that's the case, then you have a much more fluid and conflictual, international environment. And over the next, the longer term, which is five to ten years, the heavy tendencies are still there, and the tendencies that we highlighted at the beginning environment is there climate change is a problem and remain a problem. And what is interesting here is that you merge environment with geopolitical struggles. And here the risk of not being able to deal with this crisis with a single voice. But states trying to instrumentalise this crisis, and on top of that, traditional geopolitical issues like spread of weapons of mass destruction related to this international environment, which is much more fragmented, is leading to a situation where possible accidents, misuses, or potentially deliberate uses of weapons of mass destruction or hostile action could be foreseeable. And even in worst case scenario, if you think about what could happen because of the impact the social impact of this crisis, it could lead to disintegration of states, collapse of states, and also potentially collapse of the multilateral, international system.
Colonel (GS) Laurent Currit: And what are other risks we should take into account?
Dr Jean-Marc Rickli: So, what is interesting is that you have this traditional global risk. But now, the international community and some organization like the WEF, and also the GCSP, is increasingly thinking about what we call “frontier risk”. And these frontier risks are risks that are not yet have not yet materialised but are on the horizon. And for the first time, the 2021 report has included reference to from curious they mentioned, accidental war, an archaic uprising, brain machine interface, exploitation, collapse of established democracy, geomagnetic disruptions, neuro-mechanical control, or deployment of small scale nuclear weapons. Here, what is very interesting is to look at the DNA as of this frontier risk, and most of them are related to the growth of emerging technology, which is exponential. And if you look at what happened last year, with the COVID-19 crisis, when you face an exponential growth, you don't have the luxury to wait until you see the effects materialise, you need to think ahead. And therefore, if you think about, for instance, a topic that I'm heavily working on brain computer interfaces, these devices, which could potentially, and are already for some, able to read what you think and also influence the way your brain works. If you think about that, you need to think also about potential misuses and how they could be weaponised and used in the military. It will be too late to tackle these issues when the technology is mature. So better think ahead and in the field of brain computer interfaces just looking at warfare you know potentially you could have devices that could directly change the way people think so the importance of using weapons in warfare could be actually put into question in the future if that kind of devices we ever met the market.
Colonel (GS) Laurent Currit: Thank you very much for this interview and for supporting our platform we wish you all the best take care
Dr Jean-Marc Rickli: Thank you it was a pleasure.
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