Biodiversity risk – further delays

Thought Leadership, Financial Risk & Reward, Policy, Transparency & Traceability, Multi-Asset

In the World Economic Forum (WEF) 19th Global Risks Report, biodiversity loss & ecosystem collapse is among the 34 risks highlighted. However, the 1,500 experts polled do not perceive this as a short-term risk (within 2 years), it ranked 20th, but a long-term one (within 10 years), ranked 3rd. This is ‘biocrastination’ and it is persistent. In the 2024 report, short-term biodiversity risk was ranked higher at 18th, while the long-term rank was one place lower (4th). This is puzzling as biodiversity loss measures continue to trend downwards. Waiting for further confirmation of species loss appears reckless.

Biodiversity risk messaging

WEF’s 2024 Global Risks Report, reveals insights on the evolving global risks landscape from 1,490 experts across academia, business, government, the international community and civil society. Responses were collected from 4 September to 9 October 2023.i

One of the risks identified was biodiversity & ecosystem collapse, defined as ‘severe consequences for the environment, humankind and economic activity due to destruction of natural capital stemming from a result of species extinction or reduction, spanning both terrestrial and marine ecosystems’.ii

In general, biodiversity/ecosystem risk is not viewed as urgent, reflecting a similar sentiment to the 6 environmental risk factors identified. Only one (extreme weather events) makes the top 5 and two (pollution joins the ranking) are in the short-term top 10. However, on a long-term risk view, four make the top five (extreme weather events, critical change to Earth systems, biodiversity & ecosystem collapse, and natural resource shortages) and pollution risk comes in at number 10. It seems that respondents note the interconnectivity of these environmental factors in the long-term, less so in the next two-year period.

However, WEF notes that respondents disagree about the urgency, with younger respondents ranking critical change to Earth systems and biodiversity & ecosystem collapse far more highly over the two-year period when compared to older age groups. Furthermore the private sector identifies this as a top concern over the longer term while respondents from civil society or government prioritize these risks over shorter time frames.iii

And who is best placed to deal with biodiversity risks? 61% of respondents believe it is national and local regulations, ranking it second equal with illicit economic activity risk, just behind the top ranked censorship & surveillance (64%), but marginally ahead of inflation (60%).iv Global treaties are regarded as important driver for risk reduction and preparedness over the next 10 years – see Figure 1.

Figure 1: Top global risks addressed by Global treaties and agreements – “Which approach(es) do you expect to have the most potential for driving action on risk reduction and preparedness over the next 10 years?” Source: World Economic Forum Global Risks Perception Survey 2023-2024.


Planet Tracker defines ‘biocrastination as the act of unnecessarily delaying biodiversity conservation, despite knowing the consequences.

An examination of earlier WEF Global Risk Reports suggests a persistent biocrastination. In 2020, WEF examined the global risk picture by impact and likelihood. Figure 2 below shows the results. Biodiversity loss was significant on both of characteristics, as were other environmental risks such as climate action failure, extreme weather, natural disasters, and human-made natural disasters.

However, in all the subsequent years (2021-2024 inclusive), the short-term biodiversity risk was ranked lower than that of the long-term risk. In the 2022 report, for example, biodiversity loss did not feature in the top 10 for the 0-2 year period, ranked 9th in the 2-5 year period, and 3rd in the 5-10 year period. Between 2020 and 2024 (inclusive), the longer term risk ranking of biodiversity loss has never been below 4th. In summary, biodiversity loss is regularly recognised as a major risk, but only ever in the longer term. This is the financial equivalent of hoping that long-term liabilities never become short-term ones.

Figure 2: Global risks landscape in 2002 measured by impact and likelihood (The size of the diamond indicates higher or lower impact or likelihood – Source World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2020

Conclusion: Not without hope

The persistent delay in addressing the clear downward trend in biodiversity loss is both puzzling and disappointing. This risk to biodiversity and ecosystems has been persistently ranked highly over the last five years, but only as a longer-term issue. However, there are bright spots. This WEF report shows that environmental issues are on the risk radar of academics, businesses, governments, the international community and civil society. It is noteworthy that prior to 2020, biodiversity risks did not get a mention among the top 5 for either likelihood or impact, with the single exception of 2011.v Furthermore, there is a recognised interconnectivity between these environmental risks. Although there is a belief that regulation, particularly global treaties and agreements, are the solution to both biodiversity loss/ecosystem collapse and halting a critical change to Earth systems, this year we will be able to observe whether this plays out. 2024 will see two UN COPs, one on biodiversity (COP16) an another on climate (COP29). Will they demonstrate that biodiversity loss & ecosystem collapse is a near term risk that urgently needs addressing?

We should stop pretending we live in Neverland.

Related research reports:

Biocrastination’ (February 2023), Voting Against Nature (May 2023), We Need Basel IV for Climate and Nature (July 2023), EU discusses Business and Nature – Key Takeaways for FIs (October 2023)

i Global Risks Report 2024 (page 5) – World Economic Forum (January 2024)

ii Global Risks Report 2024 (page 96) – World Economic Forum (January 2024)

iii Global Risks Report 2024 (page 7) – World Economic Forum (January 2024)

iv Global Risks Report 2024 (page 86) – World Economic Forum (January 2024)

v Global Risks Report 2020 (page 2) – World Economic Forum (January 2020)

Related Content

The latest reports to your inbox

Don’t miss out! To receive Planet Tracker's reports just click below and complete the contact form.

Sign up