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Laurie Goering
Climate editor

What are the biggest risks facing the world?

You might think business leaders would put pandemic-related economic slowdowns, rising debt or lack of vaccine access at the top of the list.

But as the World Economic Forum meets this week - online instead of in Davos, thanks to the pandemic - nearly a thousand top company executives, as well as government and academic leaders, say climate and environment threats are their top global worry.

Failure to act on climate change is the biggest threat, they say, with a key impact - more extreme weather - in second place.

In fact, environmental concerns - including biodiversity loss, natural resource crises and human damage to the environment - now fill all five top risk slots for the next 10-year period.

"Our planet is on fire and we have to deal with this," was the stark warning from WEF President Borge Brende.

Just as troubling, governments are struggling to adopt climate-smart policies as COVID-19 hits economic activity and the pandemic fuels social inequality - which makes uniting people behind climate action more challenging, WEF experts say.

Ilzete is embraced by her daughter Joelma in front of a flooded house during floods caused by heavy rain in Imperatriz, Maranhao state, Brazil January 6. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

In the United States, surging climate change threats are translating into growing economic costs for workers.

People with outdoor jobs - from farmworkers to builders - will lose billions of dollars in earnings by mid-century as more extreme heat makes it hard for them to work safely, unless emissions from fossil fuel use are slashed, the Union of Concerned Scientists warns.

More protective clothing, adjusting working hours and the like can help. But emergency workers, from firefighters to paramedics, can't avoid working in the heat. And heat risks already disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic people, who are over-represented in outdoor labour, researchers found.

Low-paid employees, in particular, may feel they have no option but to work on very hot days, one reason stepping up climate action now is crucial to save lives.

"Workers should not be put in a position of having to choose between their health and a paycheck," says Rachel Licker, a climate scientist.

A sign sits outside of a cooling shelter during a heat wave in Portland, Oregon, U.S., August 11, 2021. REUTERS/Mathieu Lewis-Rolland

What happens if we fail to curb climate change and its risks?

Runaway global warming and mounting losses may bring growing demand to deploy controversial "geoengineering" technology - such as using modified planes to spray chemical particles into the upper atmosphere to block some of the sun reaching the planet.

Indigenous people last year prevented an early outdoor test in Sweden of some of the equipment that could be used - and about 60 scientists this week called for an international "non-use agreement" to stop it ever being deployed.

But Janos Pasztor, head of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative, says if leaders don't cut emissions faster they will have to weigh up whether the risks of a 2C warmer world are worse than those posed by geoengineering.

So how do we fight climate change effectively in 2022, to head off the worst impacts and avoid such terrible choices?

Here are my top three ideas in a short video. And here's to "looking up" this year...

See you next week!



Climate inaction - and 'dramatic' consequences - top global threat list
Failures to act on climate pledges and the resulting extreme weather are now the top risk facing the world, World Economic Forum experts say

As heat spikes, U.S. workers seen facing 'health or pay' dilemma
Extreme heat could cost Americans who work outdoors billions in lost annual earnings by mid-century, researchers say

After sun-dimming setback, geoengineers seek a diplomatic fix
A snub for a high-altitude Harvard University project to dim sunshine last year has spurred down-to-Earth diplomacy in 2022 to solve solar geoengineering research disputes

Invest in nature and reap cash benefits, World Economic Forum urges cities
Cities should invest more in expanding green spaces and nurturing natural systems - not just to keep residents healthy and tackle climate-change risks but to boost their economies

Climate fund aims to help indigenous people protect world's forests
Forest communities have received a tiny share of global climate finance - but a new initiative plans to change that by channelling money to groups on the ground

Nepal's blossoming honey industry crushed by wild weather
Heavy rains and long droughts are robbing bees of food and killing the insects, drying up Nepal's supply of the sticky stuff

OPINION: It’s time to step away from risky techno-fixes to climate threats
Solar geoengineering is not necessary, desirable, ethical or political governable, and governments must restrict the development of these technologies before it is too late

OPINION: To protect vital ecosystems, turn to those living in them
As the U.N. biodiversity conference approaches, efforts to ensure effective nature protection must include indigenous peoples and local communities

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