Policy series Managing global catastrophic risks: Part 1 Understand

Published on 13 August 2019

This product is the first in a series. Its purpose is to inform policy-makers at a national level how they can better understand global catastrophic risks. Further products will address how governments can effectively mitigate, prepare for, respond to and communicate about these risks. Visit www.GCRpolicy.com for the online version and detailed policy options.

The risks

  • Countries face a set of human-driven global risks that threaten their security, prosperity and potential. In the worst
    case, these global catastrophic risks could lead to mass harm and societal collapse.
  • The plausible global catastrophic risks include:
    • tipping points in the natural order due to climate change or mass biodiversity loss,
    • malicious or accidentally harmful use of artificial intelligence,
    • malicious use of, or unintended consequences from, advanced biotechnologies,
    • a natural or engineered global pandemic, and
    • intentional, mis-calculated, accidental, or terrorist-related use of nuclear weapons
  • The likelihood that a global catastrophe will occur in the next 20 years is uncertain. But the potential severity means
    that national governments have a responsibility to their citizens to manage these types of risks.

The policy problem

  • Governments must sufficiently understand the risks to design mitigation, preparation and response measures. The challenge is that national governments often struggle with understanding, and developing policy for, extreme risks.
  • Political leaders are inclined to be focused on, or bound by, the short run. Political systems often do not provide sufficient incentives for policy-makers to think about emerging or long-term issues, especially where vested interests and tough trade-offs are at play.
  • Additionally, the bureaucracies that support government can be ill-equipped to understand these risks. Depending on the issue or the country, public administrations tend to suffer from one or more of the following problems: poor agility to new or emerging issues, poor risk management culture and practice, lack of technical expertise and failure
    of imagination.

The policy options

  • Some political systems may need structural reform to enable and incentivise the development of policies with future generations and global catastrophic risks in mind. But public administrations do not have to wait for such changes to make headway. Forward-leaning leaders and senior officials can act now to better understand extreme risks, including these global catastrophic risks.
  • Governments can take strategic policy efforts to better understand the risks under five broad pillars:
    • Improve risk management practice to better understand the existing and emerging risks to national interests from domestic and foreign sources,
    • Enable better decision-making on futures and risk to ensure that action is taken within a legislative and policy context,
    • Understand extreme risks holistically to sufficiently inform decisions around mitigation, preparation and response measures,
    • Improve practice and use of futures analysis to alert policy-makers to emerging issues and facilitate better long-term policy,
    • Increase government’s science and research capability so that policy problems and solutions are supported by cutting edge technical expertise.

Read full report

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