Current environmental challenges.

Current environmental challenges. Photo: Weiquan Lin / Getty Images. Getty Images .

An avalanche of immediate crises – from Russia’s Ukraine war to soaring energy and food prices and worsening debt – are delaying action on major risks like climate change and threatening to fuel growing societal breakdown, analysts have warned.

Among a group of 1,200 policy makers, risk experts and business leaders surveyed by WEF, the global cost-of-living crisis topped global concerns for the coming two years, followed by worsening natural disasters and extreme weather linked to climate change.

More than 70% of those surveyed said they see efforts to curb climate change as “ineffective”, according to John Scott, head of sustainability risk at Zurich Insurance Group, which partnered on the report with risk strategy group Marsh McLennan.

At a separate event run by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Csaba Kőrösi , the president of the U.N. General Assembly, likened the challenges facing humanity to crossing a busy highway filled with speeding cars and plenty of slip-inducing banana peels.

“What we know is, in our world today, we need to get to the other side of the road as on our side of the road conditions for life and civilisation are becoming unsustainable,” he said.

Robert Watt, SEI’s head of strategic policy engagement, said efforts to deal with a growing range of crises are being made more challenging by an increasing “democracy deficit”.

Academic studies suggest that democratic space globally is shrinking, with 70% of the world’s population now living under some form of dictatorship, he said.

Even many democracies are becoming more autocratic, with 35 nations seeing “a significant reduction” in freedom of speech or operating space for civil society in the last year, Watt added.

Efforts to tackle problems are also struggling as what he called “computational propaganda” – including social media algorithms that favour controversial material – clog up global news feeds and undermine trust in and agreement on basic facts.

“Working together on global problems – from climate change risks to worsening inequality – becomes much more challenging “if we all have our own facts”.”

— Robert Watt, SEI