AI and supply chain risk leading UK emerging risk concerns

The threats posed by artificial intelligence (AI) and energy supply chain disruption are now seen as some of the leading national emerging risks by the UK.

In its latest National Risk Register, the UK government lists AI as one of four distinct “chronic threats” for the first time — alongside the threats posed by climate change, antimicrobial resistance and serious organized crime.

The government says that while AI systems “present many opportunities,” there are a “range of potential risks and there is uncertainty about its transformative impact.”

The register ranks an attack on the UK’s infrastructure, such as its energy network, with a “significant” impact as 5% to 25% likely within a two-year period, disclosing this as a major risk for the first time. This category includes Russia deliberately disrupting energy supplies in Europe, or terror attacks on utility networks, nuclear facilities or fuel supplies.

“While the UK relies less on Russian energy than many other European countries, it is still exposed to disruption in European energy markets,” the document says. In the worst scenario, all transit gas that flows from Russia to European states is cut off for several weeks during winter, potentially leading to demand curtailment across Europe.

“A severe gas shortage in mainland Europe for a significant period could also negatively impact continental European gas-fired electricity generation capacity, which could affect the UK’s security of energy supply in winter, impacting household electricity consumers,” the register says.

Also included for the first time are undersea telecommunications cables, which the government warns are vulnerable to attack. And the report also touches on the remote — but potentially damaging — threat of drone attacks on UK infrastructure.

In its first update for three years, the risk register rates the possibility of a “catastrophic” pandemic as 5% to 25% likely in a five-year period, upgrading its risk from the previous assessment of 1 to 5% likely.

Matt Collins, the deputy national security adviser, said the updated register “based on the government’s internal, classified risk assessment, offers even more detail on the potential scenarios, response and recovery options relating to the risks facing the UK, ranging from terrorism to conflicts and natural disasters”.