Risk specialists see extreme weather and misinformation as most likely to trigger a global crisis in the next couple of years, a World Economic Forum (WEF) survey released on Wednesday said.
While extreme weather was identified as the bigger risk in 2024, misinformation and disinformation came second and were found to be the most severe global risk over the next two years.
This could pose a particular threat as billions of people head to the polls in the biggest election year in history.
Major economies from the United States to India and Mexico will hold elections this year, leaving industry and political leaders reliant on polls and forecasts to assess what the policy environment will look like by 2025.
"The widespread use of misinformation and disinformation, and tools to disseminate it, may undermine the legitimacy of newly elected governments," the report warned.
"Resulting unrest could range from violent protests and hate crimes to civil confrontation and terrorism," added the report, which was prepared in partnership with Zurich Insurance Group and Marsh McLennan ahead of next week's annual WEF meeting.
Over a 10-year horizon, environmental risks including biodiversity loss and critical change to the Earth's systems topped the rankings, with misinformation, disinformation and adverse outcomes of artificial intelligence (AI) just behind.
Meanwhile, two-thirds of risk experts surveyed expect a multipolar or fragmented world order to emerge in the next decade, "in which middle and great powers contest, set and enforce regional rules and norms", the survey said.
WEF president Borge Brende told a press conference on Tuesday that the 54th annual WEF gathering in the Swiss ski resort of Davos would occur against its most complicated geopolitical backdrop to date, ranging from wars in Gaza and Ukraine to rising debt and living costs.
The survey's pessimistic outlook was likely triggered by the series of risks unleashed in the past four years with knock-on effects on society, said John Scott, head of sustainability risk at Zurich Insurance Group, highlighting the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"It's been one blow after the other to global supply chains," added Carolina Klint, Chief Commercial Officer for Europe at Marsh McLennan.