CLIMATE change, nuclear war and pandemic diseases are some of the global catastrophic risks that humanity should do more to prepare for, according to a new report.
The Global Challenges Foundation, working in partnership with the Global Priorities Project in association with the University of Oxford, today publishes Global Catastrophic Risks 2016, and calls for a more integrated approach to planning for disasters.
The report identifies a series of risks with the potential to wipe out swathes of the human race – and says that, while each is unlikely, the possible impact if one were to occur means that the international community should prepare for them.
The global catastrophic risks that we need to prepare for in 2016 are: Catastrophic climate change; Nuclear war; Natural pandemics (e.g. pandemic influenza); Exogenous risks (e.g. risks that are independent of humans, such as super volcanoes, asteroids or comets); and Emerging risks (e.g. an engineered pandemic or man-made virus, artificial intelligence or a failure of geo-engineering)
The authors of the report found that the most immediate risks were nuclear war or a natural or engineered pandemic, which had a higher likelihood of occurring in the next five years. Other risks like catastrophic climate change are unlikely to occur very soon, but more concerning in the long run if they are not given the appropriate level of attention.
Sebastian Farquhar, Director at the Global Priorities Project, said: “We do not expect these risks to materialise tomorrow, or even this year, but we should not ignore them.
Catastrophic but unlikely events do happen
“Catastrophic but unlikely events do happen – think of the Spanish influenza pandemic at the beginning of last century which may have killed five per cent of the population. As nuclear weapons have taught us, new technologies have the potential to increase these risks as well as reduce them.
Although many risks are addressed by specific groups, we need to build a community around global catastrophic risk. Cooperation is the only way for global leaders to manage the risks that threaten humanity.”
The report identifies several actions that should be taken in order to better mitigate against global catastrophic risks, with the international community, nation states, the research community, industry and the not for profit sector all having a role to play.
The report makes 22 recommendations, including: – The international community should continue the policy of nuclear non-proliferation, and nuclear states should continue to reduce stockpiles
– Nations should continue to implement and improve mechanisms for emissions abatement, and developed nations could commit to building no new coal fired power stations without carbon capture and sequestration
– The World Health Organisation, nation states and other bodies should increase their planning for extremely bad pandemics
– Policymakers should work with researchers to understand the issues that may arise from emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, geoengineering, and synthetic biology and lay the groundwork for planned adaptive risk regulation
– Research communities should focus greater attention on strategies for resilience to and recovery from global catastrophe, for example by developing alternative food sources
Laszlo Szombatfalvy, founder and chairman of the Global Challenges Foundation, said: “In-depth knowledge about global catastrophic risks is a key prerequisite to encourage debates and proposals as to how we can effectively reduce – and preferably eliminate – these threats.
“This requires increased global cooperation to tackle these issues. To continue relying on multilateral negotiations increases the probability that decisions and actions are insufficient and executed too late, resulting in a greater likelihood of risks continuing to escalate.”