Research & Innovation

Global Risks Perceptions Initiative

Humanity is facing an increasing wave of global risks – like climate change, threats to public health, and social inequity – that demand multilateral cooperation. With perceptions of risk that vary according to lived experience and socio-economic factors, one’s perceptions of risk shapes one’s actions. The Global Risks Perceptions Initiative captures and analyzes the perceptions on global risk of different scientific communities with the aim of sparking and informing a pluralistic dialogue around risks that draws on a diversity of experience and knowledge.

Over the past 15 years, dialogues and framings of global risks have been shaped by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which regularly surveys business and economic leaders on their risk perceptions. Building from this, our team (Future Earth and Sustainability in the Digital Age, in collaboration with the International Science Council) surveys the global sustainability science community’s perceptions of global risks. Previous surveys have reached over 200 respondents in over 50 countries. In analyzing responses, we hope to enrich the conversation around risk mitigation strategies already underway and create more inclusive dialogues towards solutions.

Cover for peer-reviewed article on Climate Action Failure Highlighted as Leading Global Risk by Both Scientists and Business Leaders published by Earth's Future

Cite as: Wynes, S., Garard, J., Fajardo, P., Aoyagi, M., Burkins, M., Chaudhari, K., et al. (2022). Climate action failure highlighted as leading global risk by both scientists and business leaders. Earth’s Future, 10, e2022EF002857.

Global Risks Perceptions Report 2021 cover. Dark blue background with photo of the Earth taken from space (NASA photo credit.) On the left side of the graphic there are 8 small photos representing global risks. 1. Aerial photo of flooding. 2. Medical clinic with patients with masks on. 3. Cyber criminal in front of computers. 4. Blazing wildfire. 5. Storm damaged electrical pole fallen on street. 6. Screenshot of stocks crashing (economic risks.) 7. View of heavily polluted air over city. 8. Aerial view of burned/deforested forest.

Download Report PDF: Global Risks Perceptions Report 2021

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グローバルリスク 認知報告書 PDF

Cite as: Future Earth, Sustainability in the Digital Age, and International Science Council. 2021. Global Risks Perceptions Report 2021. Future Earth Canada Hub.


Key Insights

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Scientists systematically ranked likelihood and impact of global risks higher than members of business and economic communities.

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All surveyed communities rated environmental risks among the most urgent global risks humanity faces today and as highly interconnected with other global risks.

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Technological risks are now seen as more likely to occur, compared to earlier findings.

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Five risks emerge as most likely to form an interconnected cluster of risks and lead to a global systemic crisis: failure to take climate action biodiversity loss infectious disease extreme weather events human environmental damage.

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Scientists highlighted the need to prioritize inequality as a standalone risk in assessments and perception analyses.

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Business and science communities are only two groups of many more with perspectives relevant to dialogues about global risks. There is a continued need to learn from each other and build a global community around mitigating risks.

For more information, watch the Global Risks Perceptions Report 2021 Launch Webinar:

Expert Advisory Committee 2021

Dr. Midori Aoyagi
Principal Researcher, Social and Environmental Systems Division, National Institute for Environmental Studies, Japan

Dr. Melody Brown Burkins
Associate Director, John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding; Adjunct Professor, Environmental Studies, Dartmouth College, USA

Dr. Kalpana Chaudhari
Assistant Professor, Shah and Anchor Kutchhi Engineering College; Vice President, Institute for Sustainable Development and Research (ISDR), India

Dr. Terrence Forrester
Professor of Experimental Medicine, UWI Solutions for Developing Countries, University of the West Indies Mona Campus, Jamaica

Dr. Matthias Garschagen
Professor, Department of Geography, Human-Environment Relations, Ludwig- Maximillians-Universität München, Germany

Dr. Paul Hudson
Lecturer in Environmental Economics, Department for Environment and Geography, University of York, England

Dr. Maria Ivanova
Associate Professor, Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance, McCormack Graduate School, University of Massachusetts Boston; Director, Center for Governance and Sustainability; Director, Global Environmental Governance Project, USA

Dr. Edward Maibach
University Professor, George Mason University; Director, Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication, USA

Dr. Damon Matthews
Professor and Research Chair, Climate Science and Sustainability, Concordia University; Scientific Co-Director, Sustainability in the Digital Age, Canada

Anne-Sophie Stevance
Senior Science Officer, International Science Council, France

Dr. Sylvia Wood
Director, Research and Development, Habitat

Cover for peer-reviewed article on Too Big to Ignore: Global Risk Perception Gaps Between Scientists and Business Leaders

Cite as: Garschagen, M., Wood, S. L. R., Garard, J., Ivanova, M., & Luers, A. (2020). Too big to ignore: Global risk perception gaps between scientists and business leaders. Earth’s Future, 8, e2020EF001498.


Key Insights

  • Surveyed scientists identified climate-extreme weather-biodiversity-food-water as a critical nexus of risk that could lead to a global systemic crisis.
  • Climate change is a central driver of potential future global systemic crises according to 72% of respondents.
  • Scientists rank environmental and societal risks as the most urgent, followed by geopolitical, technological and economic risks.
  • Most emerging global risks identified by surveyed scientists were societal risks, e.g. erosion of trust, growing inequality, and a rise in nationalism, etc.
  • A failure to consider feedbacks across systems is also a critical emerging risk.

Expert Advisory Committee 2020

Dr. Kalpana Chaudhari
Institute for Sustainable Development and Research, ISDR

Dr. Matthias Garschagen
Department of Geography, Human-Environment Relations  Ludwig-Maximillians-Universität München

Dr. Maria Ivanova
Center for Governance and Sustainability, John  W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, University of Massachusetts

Dr. Markus Reichstein
Department of Biogeochemical Integration, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry

Dr. Qian Ye
State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource Ecology, Beijing Normal University

With support from

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SSHRC logo
The 2021 survey draws on research supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).


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Future Earth logo
International Science Council logo