The Global Agenda Survey 2012, released by the World Economic Forum’s Network of Global Agenda Councils, captures the opinions, insights and expertise of 900 global experts who participated in the Summit on the Global Agenda in Dubai.

As expressed by Network Head Martina Gmür, the issues addressed in the survey and at the Summit are what keeps the best and brightest awake at night. From such a wealth of information, we can identify top global trends. Although mostly dominated by political and economic concerns, there are some key sustainability and environmental implications.

As the embedded excerpt above shows (you can also view it directly on the website), resource scarcity is one of the most underestimated and overestimated issues today. These two seemingly paradoxical observations suggest two messages. The first is that resource scarcity in conjunction with an ever-growing population is still proving to be a major unsolved global challenge that should require more attention. Second, there is another group who may still be skeptical of this threat, perhaps in line with climate change skeptics.

Following the trend from Rio+20, non-governmental organizations and the private sector are most worried about resource scarcity. The fact that the overwhelmingly top consequence is “social and/or political unrest” underlies the assumption that resource scarcity will primarily hit developing nations.

However, it is important to note that many of these top consequences have business implications, especially both upstream and downstream of a company’s value chain. Managing this risk, according to Dominic Waughray, head of the Forum’s environmental initiatives, is one of the key aspects of resilience dynamism, which is the theme of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2013.

Climate change has dropped to 9th place in the survey rankings and is very gender-specific.

Although climate change dropped one position from last year’s ranking, it signals a shift in priorities that are most likely due to the economic and financial crisis. It is important to note that the Forum survey was taken before Hurricane Sandy, which I believe would significantly raise the priority of this issue, especially among government stakeholders. It will be interesting to see whether this becomes a factor in updates to the survey from data collected during the Summit.

In addition, 9 out of 10 respondents who listed climate/natural disasters as a top concern were men. Such gender bias was raised by Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, who stated that: “women empowerment will be one of the most important forces facing the 21st century”.

By coincidence, a climate change conference taking place in Dubai at the same time as the Summit on the Global Agenda called for women to lead the climate fight. Whether this gender bias to climate change and natural disasters is just a statistical or sampling phenomenon, or actually significant, begs for further investigation.

Businesses pay much more attention to scarcity of resources than climate change/natural disasters

Businesses pay much more attention to scarcity of resources than climate change / natural disasters

While most stakeholder groups ranked resource scarcity and climate change/natural disasters similarly, there was great disparity among business responders. This was slightly surprising as often the two are very interlinked, even in strategies that businesses employ to tackle environmental sustainability issues. Both directly affect businesses and often one causes the other, for example, as we saw this past summer with the rise of corn prices due to the heat wave and drought in the US Midwest.

There are few explanations for this gap. One is that resource scarcity is an issue that a business can tackle with strategy, even proactively, and also is more directly linked to core business practices such as supply chain management. However, climate change/natural disasters are regional and global, which effect several businesses and communities simultaneously and is out of control of the firm. Another explanation is a broader shift in thought and trend towards resilience.

Author: Sunmin Kim is an editor at oikos Student Reporter and a doctoral candidate at the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. she attended the Summit on the Global Agenda in Dubai as an editor.

This post also appeared on the GreenBiz website

Image: A farmer stands in a wheat field. REUTERS/Carlos Barria