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Economic and societal threats—such as an economic downturn, inflation, and an erosion of social cohesion—rank among the biggest risks to doing business in G20 countries over the next two years, according to a global survey of business leaders.

The World Economic Forum’s 2023 Executive Opinion Survey, conducted between April and August 2023 in partnership with Marsh McLennan and Zurich North America, gathered views from more than 11,000 business executives around the world.

This year’s survey highlights how, even before the current conflict in the Middle East, increasingly intertwined economic and societal risks were perceived as the biggest concerns in G20 countries against a backdrop of escalating global political tensions and persistent inflationary environments in many major economies, a media statement about the report noted.

(Editor’s Note: In the United States yesterday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that inflation is easing with the Consumer Price Index unchanged in October from September, or up 3.2 percent from last October vs. a year-to-year September risk of 3.7 percent)

An economic downturn ranked as the most commonly cited risk by G20 business leaders this year and was identified as the top risk in 13 of the G20 countries, the report said.

Other risks identified as top five risks to doing business in G20 countries in the near-term were:

  • Inflation
  • Labor and talent shortages
  • Energy supply shortages
  • An erosion of social cohesion and wellbeing

Following year of record-breaking global temperatures and severe weather-related events, environmental risks have been outweighed by other concerns in this year’s survey results across the globe. In a continuation of last year’s data, environmental risks—such as extreme weather events and failure of climate change adaptation—were cited just eight times in this year’s top five risks across G20 countries. Technological risks, including threats relating to artificial intelligence, appear only three times in the G20 top five rankings.

Focusing just on responses of executives in North America, however, extreme weather events do turn up on a slightly different top-five list with downturn (recession or stagnation) still up at the top, followed by:

  • Infectious diseases
  • Inflation
  • Energy supply shortages
  • Extreme weather events

“While economic uncertainty may be top of mind for most business leaders, as well as households, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the existential threat of climate change and its impact on extreme weather events,” said Zurich North America CEO Kristof Terryn. “We are now living in a world of competing catastrophes—wildfires and floods, windstorms and severe droughts—and managing the transition to a warmer planet will require new ways of assessing and addressing risks.”

The global survey findings reveal common concerns between advanced economies and emerging markets. For example, an “economic downturn” was ranked as the top risk across all regions, while “extreme weather events” is the only environmental risk to make the top 10 this year across all of the high income, upper middle income, lower middle income, and low income country groups, the survey report said.

“Acute economic and societal risks continue to worry G20 business leaders in the near term,” commented Carolina Klint, chief commercial officer, Europe, Marsh McLennan, in a statement. “While rightly addressing these immediate concerns, they should also remain mindful that, by overlooking significant technological risks, they could leave their organizations vulnerable to increasingly sophisticated cyber and AI-related threats which may profoundly affect their prosperity and the communities in which they are based,” Klint added.

“Short-term risks such as economic and labor market-related ones dominate the global agenda today,” said Peter Giger, group chief risk officer, Zurich Insurance Group.

“It is important for companies to respond to these challenges, keeping a balanced perspective on short and longer-term risks. Businesses may feel they have little control over existential threats such as climate change. However, it is critical for companies to explore ways to mitigate these risks while at the same time responding to the immediate challenges,” Giger continued.

The Executive Opinion Survey is conducted by the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the New Economy and Society. Marsh McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group are partners of the Centre and the Global Risks Report series.