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  • Businessmen walk by a homeless man on a New York street, Sep. 28, 2010.

    Businessmen walk by a homeless man on a New York street, Sep. 28, 2010. | Photo: AFP

After a turbulent 2016, the economy, technology, the environment, and political and social changes were identified as key risks for the future.

Economic inequality, job availability and rising social and political polarization are now identified as key global risks, according to a report released Wednesday by the World Economic Forum.

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The annual Global Risks Report asked 750 global experts to outline the most pressing global risks. The most important risk was identified within the structure of global economics. According to the findings, rising inequality as well as unemployment and underemployment as a result of technological changes affecting the labor market are key challenges for the future.

“This points to the need for reviving economic growth, but the growing mood of anti-establishment populism suggests we may have passed the stage where this alone would remedy fractures in society: reforming market capitalism must also be added to the agenda,” the report stated.

Making reference to “electoral surprises” of 2016, such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., the report warned against “increasing polarization and intensifying national sentiment,” whereby global politics has become dominated by “strongman” national politicians. Polarized societies need to rebuild with an increased sense of understanding and shared cultural values, the report stated.

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The report also pointed to the dawning of a “Fourth Industrial Revolution” brought about by “the convergence between digital, biological and physical technologies.” While technology has always helped to create new jobs, in the future it will also help to radically change the labor force. Millions of jobs are seen to be at risk from new forms of technology such as automation and artificial intelligence, providing a huge challenge for governance and labor regulation.

A lessening of global political cooperation to solve global problems and facilitate change was also identified as a major risk. Donald Trump’s threats to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate change agreement were seen as key events, as was the international response to the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Similar to reports from previous years, environmental risks such as climate change, extreme weather and access to water were also ranked as one of the highest global risks for the future. While it was noted that there were positive changes to combating climate change and shifts towards a low-carbon economy, the report also argued that changes need to be implemented more quickly to mitigate against future risks.

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