World Economic Forum warns over international conflicts

Its findings illustrate a marked change from the recent past

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Following a year marked by the conflict in Ukraine and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), geopolitical issues are considered to be the biggest threat to global stability over the coming decade, according to experts polled by the World Economic Forum.

In its 2015 Global Risks Report, published Thursday, the WEF found “interstate conflict with regional consequences” to be the top risk facing the world, ahead of extreme weather, the spread of infectious diseases, climate change and sky-high youth unemployment levels in some parts of the world.

“Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world again faces the risk of major conflict between states,” said Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz, WEF’s lead economist.

She said the means to wage such conflict is broader than ever, whether through cyberattack, competition for resources or sanctions and other economic tools.

“Addressing all these possible triggers and seeking to return the world to a path of partnership, rather than competition, should be a priority for leaders as we enter 2015,” she said.

The report, now in its 10th year, helps set the tone for discussions at the annual WEF gathering in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, which starts next week.

Its findings illustrate a marked change from the recent past. Geopolitical concerns have been largely absent from WEF’s list of top risks for the past half-decade or so. A year ago, income inequality was considered to be the major concern. Now, that issue doesn’t even make it into the top 5.

However, Drzeniek-Hanouz said the repercussions from the global financial crisis of 2008-9 still remain and that it would be complacent to think that the economic risks facing the world have suddenly disappeared.

When asked to assess risks in terms of their potential impact, the nearly 900 experts surveyed by WEF found water crises as the greatest risk to the world. Another top risk identified was the spread of infectious diseases - unsurprising given the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.