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Report: Recession, Job Losses, Another Pandemic and Protectionism Are Top Worries

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Economic distress and social discontent will rise over the next 18 months unless world leaders, businesses and policy-makers work together to manage the fallout of the pandemic. As economies restart, there is an opportunity to embed greater societal equality and sustainability into the recovery, which would unleash a new era of prosperity. These are the findings of COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and Its Implications, published today.

The report, produced in partnership with Marsh & McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, taps into the views of nearly 350 senior risk professionals who were asked to look at the next 18 months and rank their biggest concerns in terms of likelihood and impact for the world and for business. The immediate economic fallout from COVID-19 dominates companies’ risks perceptions. These range from a prolonged recession to the weakening fiscal position of major economies, tighter restrictions on the cross-border movement of goods and people, and the collapse of a major emerging market.

In examining the interconnections between risks, the report also calls on leaders to act now against an avalanche of future systemic shocks such as the climate crisis, geopolitical turbulence, rising inequality, strains on people’s mental health, gaps in technology governance and health systems under continued pressure.

These longer-term risks will have serious and far-reaching implications for societies, the environment and the governance of breakthrough technologies. It reinforces the calls made in the Global Risks Report 2020, where a multistakeholder community rated environmental risks as being among the top five global risks for the next decade, and also warned of the extraordinary stress on health systems.

The latest update provides a preliminary picture of familiar risks, which may be amplified by the crisis and new ones may emerge. Two-thirds of respondents identified a “prolonged global recession” as a top concern for business. One-half identified bankruptcies and industry consolidation, failure of industries to recover and a disruption of supply chains as crucial worries.

With the accelerated digitization of the economy in the midst of the pandemic, cyberattacks and data fraud are also major threats – according to one-half of respondents – while the breakdown of IT infrastructure and networks is also a top concern. Geopolitical disruptions and tighter restrictions on the movement of people and goods are high on the worry list.

A second report, Challenges and Opportunities in the Post-COVID-19 World draws on the experience and insights of thought leaders, scientists and researchers to outline emerging opportunities to build a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable world.

“The crisis has devastated lives and livelihoods. It has triggered an economic crisis with far-reaching implications and revealed the inadequacies of the past. As well as managing the immediate impact of the pandemic, leaders must work with each other and with all sectors of society to tackle emerging known risks and build resilience against the unknown. We now have a unique opportunity to use this crisis to do things differently and build back better economies that are more sustainable, resilient and inclusive,” said Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, World Economic Forum.

Peter Giger, Group Chief Risk Officer, Zurich Insurance Group: “COVID-19 has shown it is crucial to keep existential risks in focus, and climate change is one of these. As we reboot our economies, changes in working practices and in attitudes towards travelling, commuting and consumption all point to new ways to achieve a lower-carbon and more sustainable future.

“The pandemic will have long-lasting effects, as high unemployment affects consumer confidence, inequality and well-being, and challenges the efficacy of social protection systems. With significant pressures on employment and education – over 1.6 billion students have missed out on schooling during the pandemic – we are facing the risk of another lost generation. Decisions taken now will determine how these risks or opportunities play out.”

John Doyle, President and CEO, Marsh, said: “Even before the COVID-19 crisis, organizations were faced with a highly complex and interconnected global risk landscape. From cyber threats to supply chains, as well as the well-being of their colleagues, businesses will now rethink many of the structures they formerly relied on. To create the conditions for a speedier recovery and a more resilient future, governments and the private sector need to work together more effectively. Along with major investments to improve health systems, infrastructure, and technology, one of the outcomes of this crisis has to be that societies become more resilient and capable of withstanding future pandemics and other major shocks.”

The COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and Its Implications and Challenges and Opportunities in the Post-COVID-19 World publications have been developed with the invaluable support of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Advisory Board and benefit from ongoing collaboration with its Strategic Partners Marsh & McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group.

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AI for Human Resources Toolkit Helps Organizations Overcome Implementation Challenges

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The World Economic Forum published the “Human-Centred AI for Human Resources: A Toolkit for Human Resources Professionals” to scale the responsible use of artificial intelligence in Human Resources (HR). The toolkit includes a guide covering key topics and steps in the responsible use of AI-based HR tools, and two checklists – one focused on strategic planning and the other on the adoption of a specific tool.

There are now 250 HR tools that use AI, according to the paper. These tools aim to manage talent in ways that are more effective, fair, and efficient.

However, the use of AI in HR raises concerns given AI’s potential for problems in areas such as data privacy and bias. The use of AI in HR also poses operational, reputational, and legal risks to organizations, especially with recent moves in several countries to regulate its use. There is therefore high interest in AI in HR but also apprehension, and organizations are looking to navigate this increasingly complex landscape.

To help organizations overcome these challenges, the World Economic Forum brought together over 50 experts in HR, data science, employment law, and ethics to create a practical toolkit for the responsible use of AI in this field.

“The use of AI in Human Resources is becoming prolific and yet it can be riddled with ethical AI problems such as bias. For this and other reasons the EU has named it a high-risk use of AI. This multi-stakeholder work helps all users to take the right decisions when using these tools,” said Kay Firth-Butterfield, Head of AI and Machine Learning at the World Economic Forum.

The toolkit contents were reviewed by over 300 HR professionals in private, public, and civil society organizations through focus groups, workshops, and in-depth pilots.

“As large companies innovate with a growing variety of technological tools related to talent and people strategy, questions abound as to how to ensure that technology is used responsibly and effectively. The Human-Centred AI for HR Toolkit is a practical guide to the responsible use of AI in HR that we hope will assist HR professionals to properly assess AI tools, improve diversity and inclusion outcomes, and support ethical AI practices for their organizations,” said Ani Huang, Senior Vice President of the HR Policy Association.

“As the workplace continues to evolve, HR professionals must embrace technologies, like AI, to better understand employee and business challenges and recommend evidence-based solutions. This toolkit will be helpful for HR professionals in making better informed decisions when using AI in Human Resources,” said Alexander Alonso, Chief Knowledge Officer for the Society for Human Resource Management.

Özgür Burak Akkol, Chairman of the Board at the Turkish Employers’ Association of Metal Industries (MESS) said “artificial intelligence can provide the best outcome once it’s designed in a human-centered approach. The research that we initiated in Turkey showed that the HR department is not yet equipped with the required capabilities to manage the future of the workforce and cultivate the culture for the 4th Industrial Revolution. Two workshops and pilots that reached more than 250 companies HR heads proves that the designed toolkit is very effective in providing the key considerations for the use of AI for HR and support the cultural transformation for the 4th Industrial Revolution.”

The accompanying white paper published along with the toolkit highlights the lessons learned from the project and piloting experiences, and discusses new issues that are on the horizon for AI in HR.

This project was led by World Economic Forum Fellow Professor Matissa Hollister from McGill University, in collaboration with Fellows from Baker McKenzie and New America, and the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Turkey, an affiliate centre of the World Economic Forum established by the Turkish Employers’ Association of Metal Industries (MESS) and the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Industry and Technology.

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Amidst Strong Economic Rebound in Russia, Risks Stemming from COVID-19 and Inflation

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Following a strong economic rebound in 2021, with 4.3 percent growth, Russia’s growth is expected to slow in 2022 and 2023, with a forecast of 2.4 percent and 1.8 percent growth, respectively, according to the World Bank’s latest Regular Economic Report for Russia (#46 in the series).

The Russian economy has now recovered to above its pre-pandemic peak, with growth driven by a strong rebound in consumer demand. In 2022, growth will be supported by continued strength in commodity markets, but will likely also be hampered by COVID-19 control measures and tighter interest rates.

Household consumption in the second quarter increased to more than 9 percent on the previous quarter (seasonally adjusted), showing the fastest rate of growth in a decade. Labor markets also saw a substantial upswing, with unemployment falling to a four-year low and real wages growing.

Russia’s current account surplus has also been exceptionally strong, on the back of high commodity prices and low levels of outbound tourism. The federal budget has been consolidated, led by a strong growth in revenue, and is on track to meet the authorities’ target of meeting the fiscal rule next year.

“This surge in spending resulted from the release of pent-up demand created by pandemic restrictions,” said David Knight, Lead Economist and Program Leader, World Bank. “It was aided by increased credit, Russian tourists staying at home for the holidays this year, and resource inflows via the energy sector.”

The report assesses the short-term risks weighing on Russia’s growth and finds that  low vaccination rates are necessitating stricter COVID-19 control measures that may reduce economic activity, while more persistent inflation will likely call for tighter interest rates for a longer period, limiting the growth outlook.

The report also analyzes how Russia could be impacted by global economic growth under three different green transition scenarios, and suggests that domestic climate action can help mitigate some of the possible impacts of a global green transition and create new opportunities for Russia.

The country’s new low-carbon development strategy, which aims for a 70 percent reduction in net emissions by 2050 and net carbon neutrality by 2060, will become an important first step for Russia. A focus on enabling the transition to a more diversified and faster growing economy will call for strengthening of a broad range of assets including human capital, knowledge, and world-class market institutions.

“Environmental sustainability is becoming central to the global economic agenda. Increased commitments by countries and firms to carbon neutrality signal that wholesale changes to policy frameworks will be needed in the coming years,” said Renaud Seligmann, World Bank Country Director for Russia. “With Russia’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2060, the country now needs to take concrete actions of moving towards decarbonization.”

To accomplish these goals, the report recommends the implementation of carbon pricing and the consolidation of energy subsidies for consumers in Russia. At the same time, measures should be taken to ensure people are protected from the costs and any adverse impacts of the transition.

The report estimates that consumer energy subsidies on electricity, gas and petroleum in Russia amounted to 1.4 percent of the country’s GDP in 2019. By redeploying these resources, the authorities could increase GDP and ensure that no consumers are left worse off. At the same time, this would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move Russia closer to its goal of a green and sustainable economy.  

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World trade reaches all-time high, but 2022 outlook ‘uncertain’

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Global trade is expected to be worth about $28 trillion this year – an increase of 23 per cent compared with 2020 – but the outlook for 2022 remains very uncertain, UN economists said on Tuesday.

This strong growth in demand – for goods, as opposed to services – is largely the result of pandemic restrictions easing, but also from economic stimulus packages and sharp increases in the price of raw materials.

According to UN trade and development body UNCTAD, although worldwide commerce stabilized during the second half of 2021, trade in goods went on to reach record levels between July and September.

Services still sluggish

In line with this overall increase, the services sector picked up too, but it has remained below 2019 levels.

From a regional perspective, trade growth remained uneven for the first half of the year, but it had a “broader” reach in the three months that followed, UNCTAD’s Global Trade update said.

Trade flows continued to increase more strongly for developing countries in comparison to developed economies overall in the third quarter of the year, moreover.

The report valued the global goods trade at $5.6 trillion in the third quarter of this year, which is a new all-time record, while services stood at about $1.5 trillion.

For the remainder of this year, UNCTAD has forecast slower growth for the trade in goods but “a more positive trend for services”, albeit from a lower starting point.

Among the factors contributing to uncertainty about next year, UNCTAD cited China’s “below expectations” growth in the third quarter of 2021.

“Lower-than-expected economic growth rates are generally reflected in more downcast global trade trends,” UNCTAD noted, while also pointing to inflationary pressures” that may also negatively impact national economies and international trade flows.

The UN body’s global trade outlook also noted that “many economies, including those in the European Union”, continue to face COVID-19-related disruption which may affect consumer demand in 2022.

Semiconductor stress test

In addition to the “large and unpredictable swings in demand” that have characterized 2021, high fuel prices have also caused shipping costs to spiral and contributed to supply shortages.

This has contributed to backlogs across major supply chains that could continue into next year and could even “reshape trade flows across the world”, UNCTAD cautioned.

Geopolitical factors may also play a role in this change, as regional trade within Africa and within the Asia-Pacific area increases on the one hand, “diverting trade away from other routes”.

Similarly, efforts towards a more socially and environmentally sustainable economy may also affect international trade, by disincentivizing high carbon products.

The need to protect countries’ own strategic interests and weaknesses in specific sectors could also influence trade in 2022, UNCTAD noted, amid a shortage of microprocessors called semiconductors that “has already disrupted many industries, notably the automotive sector”.

“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the semiconductor industry has been facing headwind due to unanticipated surges in demand and persisting supply constraints…If persistent, this shortage could continue to negatively affect production and trade in many manufacturing sectors.”

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