News Brief

Analysis: Economy, Environment Merge to Speed Global Decline

Economic collapse and then global warming will catch us off guard, experts fear. Analysis shows negative feedback loops are already at work.

Economic Losses Related to Natural Catastrophes in 2011

Severe weather events can leave a large bill and are not always evenly or predictably distributed. Heavy economic losses in the U.S. from weather events in 2011 show that the cumulative cost of several disasters can add up, a growing concern as our climate becomes more volatile.

Source: World Economic Forum, Adapted from Swiss Reinsurance Company
Experts perceive “major systemic economic failure” and “failure of climate change adaptation” as two of the most systematically critical global risks for the next ten years, says the World Economic Forum (WEF) in its annual Global Risks Report. Finding that environmental and economic systems are highly correlated and interdependent, the report highlights the relationship in a case section titled “Testing Economic and Environmental Resilience.”

WEF frames its survey results as an urgent message: “like a super storm, two major systems are on a collision course,” the report warns. Referencing a 2011 Mercer study, the report estimates that climate change will cumulatively issue a $2–$4 trillion blow to global health and infrastructure investments by 2030. So far, international policies have committed only $100 billion for adaptation and damage costs. Meanwhile, both advanced and developing economies are projected to see slower growth, and massive debt has introduced unprecedented levels of fiscal fragility.


Interconnected Global Risk Map

WEF’s survey respondents often rated economic and environmental risks as highly correlated, and mapping these connections revealed one of the clearest “constellations.” As both systems show signs of decline, experts worry the relationship spells disaster.

Source: World Economic Forum
A network analysis—where relationships between risks were determined by experts rating pairs of challenges as highly interconnected—revealed that declining economic and environmental systems are correlated. WEF says this correlation currently manifests itself in a daunting negative feedback loop (a vicious cycle of problems reinforcing one another). Efforts to avert climate change are hindered by limited public resources, but the longer decision-makers wait, the more it will cost. The report notes the increasing difficulty of implementing international climate-change mitigation agreements since the economic slow-down.

The report points to the private sector as an untapped source of funding and innovation. In the U.S., where 80% of the nation’s critical infrastructure is in private hands, public-private collaboration will be essential to protecting the nation’s assets, according to the report.



Published July 28, 2013

Pearson, C. (2013, July 28). Analysis: Economy, Environment Merge to Speed Global Decline. Retrieved from

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October 6, 2015 - 2:43 pm

It depicts connections between line items that are typically not interrelated. This type of thinking is rare and I fear most people will ignore it and not take the time to blow it up on screen and study it's connections the way I did. That's a sad conclusion; very sad. For instance, very few can actually understand how a rampant rise in religious fanaticism, leads to increases in terrorism, data fraud and income disparity. This chart speaks to me like a living 'finger on the pulse' of where the world is heading. Lot's of doomsday predictions have surfaced of late. This chart shows why those predictions, dire as they are, could actually come to be. The signs are obvious. I just pray we can figure it out in time to save ourselves. 

October 6, 2015 - 3:01 pm

I found the interconnections between social and economic systems really interesting as well Robert. For a glimmer of hope, you might be interested in some more recent predictions showing growth in the green building sector.