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World's business leaders call climate change the biggest risk of the 2020s: WEF report

·Former Correspondent

The world's business leaders and politicians are sounding the alarm on climate change, citing environmental-related issues as their most significant concerns in the coming decade that could wreak costly economic and societal havoc.

For the first time, climate-related issues dominated the top-five likely risks over the next decade, according to the World Economic Forum's (WEF) new annual "Global Risks Report," which ranks the most urgent risks currently facing the globe.

According to a survey of 750 business leaders, politicians, and academics, they're most worried about extreme weather damaging infrastructure and property and killing people. The report also cites fears of businesses and governments failing to mitigate climate change, human-caused environmental disasters like oil spills and radioactive contamination, biodiversity loss, and major natural disasters.

Just a year ago, the environment was front and center in the WEF’s report, alongside worries about data fraud or theft and cyberattacks.

Børge Brende, the president of the World Economic Forum, expressed "grave concern" for the consequences associated with continued environmental degradation.

"The political landscape is polarized, sea levels are rising and climate fires are burning. This is the year when world leaders must work with all sectors of society to repair and reinvigorate our systems of cooperation, not just for short-term benefit but for tackling our deep-rooted risks," Brende said.

The sobering reality, according to the report, is that there's only a decade to act to mitigate the potentially catastrophic consequences in a meaningful way.

The report highlighted some of the severe economic impacts climate change poses. For example, 200 businesses estimated that it would cost them a combined $1 trillion if there's no action on the issue. The report also cited the possibility of a "2008-style systemic collapse" unless human-caused carbon dioxide emissions fall by 50% by 2030 from 2010 levels, and reach net zero by 2050.

That said, there's also an economic opportunity to come up with solutions and alternatives, but it requires an approach that engages multiple stakeholders.

"Reaching these targets will require serious, interconnected economic and societal transitions at macro and micro levels that depend on technological innovation and commitment from governments and businesses,” the WEF report said.

“So far, however, commitments are inadequate given the urgency of the challenge and current trends are not encouraging," it added.

According to Brende, "the good news is that the window for action is still open, but not for much longer. And, despite global divisions, we continue to see members of the business community signal their commitment to looking beyond their balance sheets and towards the urgent priorities ahead."

The WEF report comes just a day after BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager with $6.84 trillion in assets under management, announced it was making climate change a central part of its investment process and portfolio construction.

CEO Larry Fink, a member of WEF's board of trustees, wrote in his widely-read annual letter that “climate change has become a defining factor in companies' long-term prospects," and that widening public outrage "emphasized the significant and lasting impact that it will have on economic growth and prosperity."

The 67-year-old investor added this is a risk that "markets to day have been slower to reflect. But wariness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance."

The Forum noted that “as today’s youth demand jobs that are compatible with their concern about climate change, workforce climate activism may become more common, and companies without strong environmental credentials could struggle for talent.”

Julia La Roche is a Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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