New Paper: Classifying Global Catastrophic Risks


  • Classifying global catastrophic risks according to critical system affected, global spread mechanism, and prevention and mitigation failure, provides a novel means of framing risks.
  • By concentrating on component factors that contribute to catastrophic risks, the classification system highlights convergent risk factors that merit prioritisation and also uncovers potential knowledge gaps.
  • The classification system can structure an ongoing, dynamic process of knowledge aggregation and horizon scanning with policy implications.


We present a novel classification framework for severe global catastrophic risk scenarios. Extending beyond existing work that identifies individual risk scenarios, we propose analysing global catastrophic risks along three dimensions: the critical systems affected, global spread mechanisms, and prevention and mitigation failures. The classification highlights areas of convergence between risk scenarios, which supports prioritisation of particular research and of policy interventions. It also points to potential knowledge gaps regarding catastrophic risks, and provides an interdisciplinary structure for mapping and tracking the multitude of factors that could contribute to global catastrophic risks.


This paper was presented at our 2016 Cambridge Conference on Catastrophic Risk, and was published in a Special Issue of Futures edited by Dr Adrian Currie.

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