The AXA Future Risk Report 2021: Climate change biggest concern for UK, ahead of pandemics

  • UK risk experts and the UK general public rank climate change as the number 1 top future risk to impact society over the next five to 10 years
  • Pandemics and infectious diseases feature highly but are not the biggest concern in the UK
  • Vast majority say governments are too underprepared to tackle future risks
  • AXA joins the United Nations-backed Race to Zero campaign, committing to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050
  • Download AXA Future Risk Report 2021 HERE

A new report published by AXA reveals that climate change is the top concern for both risk experts and the public in the UK. The findings come at a time when AXA has joined the UN Race to Zero campaign, committing to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

From a possible 25 risks that could impact the world within the next decade, more than two thirds (64%) of UK risk experts and almost six in 10 (59%) of the UK population ranked climate change as their highest risk. This was in line with Europe which also ranked climate change as the top risk, with more than half (53%) of the overall European population and 62% of experts ranking it accordingly. Globally, experts agreed that climate change has the potential to have the biggest impact on society in the next five to 10 years, however, the wider global public see it as the second most concerning risk, behind pandemics and infectious diseases.

The findings are revealed in this year’s AXA Future Risks Report, a global study which measures and ranks changes in the perception of emerging risks via a survey of 3,500 experts and 19,000 members of the public. The report is produced in partnership with research institute IPSOS and geopolitical analysis consultancy Eurasia Group.

When it comes to who is best placed to deal with risks like climate change, the study shows that, on a global level, people believe governments are underprepared to tackle the challenge, with just one in five (19%) of experts saying that public authorities can help mitigate the climate crisis and only a third (32%) of the UK public agreeing that governments are well prepared. 

However, the report also reveals that almost six in 10 (57%) of the UK’s general population think globalisation has a positive impact on risk, since it unites countries to fight against risk more effectively. The UK ranks highest in terms of feeling positive about the impact of globalisation compared to the rest of Europe, with only the Swiss also feeling more positive than negative.

The report shows that people feel governments need to do more to mitigate climate and environmental risks. It’s also clear that the insurance industry can play a larger and more visible role in making meaningful and sustainable changes. In recognition of this, AXA has joined the United Nations-backed Race to Zero campaign and committed to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Net-Zero Insurance Alliance, chaired by AXA, is providing businesses, governments and other key players the chance to work collaboratively to tackle the challenges. The upcoming COP26 event will also provide a good opportunity for governments and insurers to work together to deliver solutions and help facilitate change.

Meanwhile, the UK public ranked pandemics and infectious diseases (57%), and new security threats and terrorism (39%) as their second and third top risks respectively.

Overall, the UK ranked risks associated with climate, pandemics, cyber security, pollution, security threats and chronic illness higher than the rest of the world.  Compared to five years ago, 90% of UK experts and 83% of the UK population said they felt more vulnerable in the world due to emerging risk factors. 

“At a time when life has been dominated by other important issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and economic instability, it is perhaps surprising that climate change would top the list. However, this clearly demonstrates that for many people climate change is a very real risk which is fast approaching, if not already upon us. There is no doubt that climate change is one of the most serious and damaging risks we as a global population face, so it’s encouraging that this has been acknowledged as the number one risk in the UK.

“We have a real opportunity here for everyone – governments, the private sector and individuals – to come together and work more closely to help mitigate the risks we face now and in the future.

“That’s why it’s great to see the insurance industry stepping up with the launch of the Net-Zero Insurance Alliance, and we’re delighted to join the UN-backed Race to Zero campaign. Insurers have an essential role to play and AXA stands ready to play our part.” [Claudio Gienal, CEO, AXA UK and Ireland]

“The message from this report is clear. UK risk experts and the broader population believe the UK Government needs to put climate change front and centre.

“London is recognised around the world for its insurance and risk expertise and is renowned for its experience in addressing the most complex, emerging risks. It has a dual role to play; both by supporting our clients and local communities in tackling the immediate impacts of climate change and – through the work being done within the London market and Lloyd’s – by helping to create climate resiliency around the world. This is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.

“Central to this is tackling the protection gap – the gap between economic and insured losses – and insuring the green transition as we move to a decarbonised world.” [Sean McGovern, CEO, UK & Lloyd’s market at AXA XL]

AXA UK Future Risk Report 2021 - Stats in Brief:

Risks - Future Risk Report Survey

Experts: In total 3,448 experts from 60 countries were interviewed for AXA’s Future Risk Report 2021 (400 of those experts were based in the UK)

UK experts Top 10 Future Risk ranking per percentage of respondents:

  1. Climate change – 64%
  2. Cyber security risks – 62%
  3. Pandemics and infectious diseases – 50%
  4. Geopolitical instability – 37%
  5. Natural resources and biodiversity risks – 34%
  6. Social discontent and local conflicts – 29%
  7. New security threats and terrorism – 26%
  8. Financial stability risks – 19%
  9. Macro-economic risks – 18%
  10. Risks related to artificial intelligence and big data – 18%

General Population: The survey of 19,000 people was conducted in 15 countries among representative samples of the population aged 18+ (1,001 adults in the UK)

UK general population Top 10 Future Risk ranking per percentage of respondents:

  1. Climate change – 59%
  2. Pandemics and infectious diseases – 57%
  3. New security threats and terrorism – 39%
  4. Cyber security risks – 39%
  5. Pollution – 38%
  6. Natural resources and biodiversity – 30%
  7. Chronic illness – 26%
  8. Geopolitical instability 23%
  9. Social discontent and local conflicts - 24%
  10. Financial stability risks – 21%


When considering all of the above risks, UK experts ranked the threat level to the UK as being 7.6/10, while the general UK population ranked the threat level as being 7.2/10.

57% of the UK population said globalisation had a positive impact on these risks since it unites countries against risks more effectively, while 43% of the UK general population said that globalisation had a negative impact

When asked what the most effective level of decision-making is when facing future risks, 53% of the UK population said global level was most effective.

  • At the country level – 31%
  • At the continent level – 12%
  • At the city level – 4%

The UK vs. the rest of the world

Authored by AXA


About AXA

In July 2012 the AXA Commercial Lines and Personal Intermediary businesses came together to form a new single organisation – AXA Commercial Lines and Personal Intermediary.

The business offers brokers a more integrated and consistent approach from AXA which is focussed on their needs as a business – whatever the product. AXA Commercial Lines & Personal Intermediary provides underwriting expertise, offering a range of commercial lines and personal lines products and insurance solutions to our brokers and customers.  AXA Commercial & Personal Intermediary is part of AXA Group, a worldwide leader in insurance and asset management serving 101 million clients

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